Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ten Things on Tuesday - Volume 5

It's after 10 p.m. on Tuesday and I'm determined to get this post done on time this week!

1. I am SO ready for the weather to warm up enough to make wearing spring dresses a possibility! I'm tired of freezing!

2. Speaking of which, I'm kind of in love with this dress from Modcloth!

3. Watching too many episodes of Hotel Impossible lately have me thinking I would be an awesome hotel consultant. I know hotels, and I know how to tell people what to do. Someone pay me already!


4. This.

5. The weather was *supposed* to be awesome this week, so I was all excited to go hit a hiking trail or two. Something shifted though, and instead of mid-70s we've had mid-50s. The low tomorrow is 37! Must move back to Florida, stat!

6. Even though my car survived the drive down to New Orleans and back (Spoiler alert!), she really does need some work. Why do car repairs have to be so expensive? I could go on an amazing vacation for what it will cost to get her back in good shape!

7. Travel makes me crave more travel. It's my biggest addiction.

8. I really want a new betta fish - I haven't had one in like 7 years!

Look at this handsome mofo. I love their little tough guy faces!

9. I think I now use Pinterest as a search engine as often as I use Google. Is that just me?

10. Lipton seems to have stopped making my favorite tea (their 100% natural passionfruit mango green tea). Any suggestions for something new to get hooked on? I love Xing's cherry green tea, but haven't been able to find it in any stores near me for like a year!f

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Go forth and dream of hump day.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pets Shedding Pounds - Before & After! #HillsPet

How great is Bear's story? (I have to admit that I was a little biased since I have a Bear cat!)

I loved the idea in this video about the personality changes that come with a pet getting back to a healthy weight. My mom's cat Lily was quite overweight for about five years, but she's finally dropped a few pounds and has become much more playful and affectionate since. It's so cute to see her chasing toys like a little kitten when she's about to turn 11 years old!

As part of the campaign I've been participating in for the new Hill's Prescription Diet Metabolic Food, I got to see the before and after photos of some other pets who tried the new line of food. The studies have shown that 88% of pets lost weight within 60 days - very cool! And they don't have to be super overweight like Bear (the dog in the video, not my own Bear! He'd probably prefer that I clarify that.) to benefit. This line of foods can be helpful for any overweight cats or dogs whose health would benefit from shedding a few pounds!

Norman is one of the kitties who participated in the cat weight loss food trial. The top photo is his "before" and the bottom is after 150 days. He's definitely starting to lose the hanging belly! He started at 14.4 pounds and is down to 11.4 in the second photo. I loved reading the notes from vets in the testimonials where some mentioned that they now look forward to check-ups with their weight loss patients when those used to be some of the tougher cases to see progress in!

This is Russell before and after 120 days on the new food. He's still a big kitty, but he's visibly lost some of the roundness! He started out at 24.9 pounds and lost 1.5, even though he's on some medication that can make losing weight a little tricky. A pound and a half might not sound like much when you're used to weight loss numbers that humans aim for, but for him it was about 6% of his body weight. To put that in relateable numbers, it's kind of like a 200 lb person dropping down to 188 - a great start!

Hill's was awesome enough to hook several of my readers up with a free trial of this new line earlier this month, and I can't wait to hear how it works from them! If you're interested in finding more info, here are the official pages for the Hill's Prescription Diet Metabolic Advantage wet cat food, dry cat food, and cat treats. (They have a line for dogs, too!)

Speaking of the dogs, I can't resist closing this post with my favorite before and after photos - this is Rex, who lost 22.4 pounds in 120 days! His photos crack me up because of the obvious change in how he's feeling! SO CUTE!

This post is sponsored by Hill’s. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic Food, 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.

Friday, April 25, 2014

New Orleans Trip Part 3 - Shopping on Royal St.

This is the third post about my New Orleans trip! You can read about the drive down here or my stay at the Hotel Modern here!

So, when we left off I'd just survived a 15 hour drive and then slipped into an exhausted deep sleep in my hotel instead of going out for some New Orleans nightlife. Not quite what I had planned, but at least I'd made it! I woke up around 8 a.m. super sick from exhaustion and the stress of the day before and was momentarily worried that I'd spend all day sick in my room, but a few more hours of rest made all of the difference and when I woke back up at 11, I was ready to go explore.

I wasn't entirely sure what my plans for the day were. I was hoping to hear back from a second hotel who had said they might be able to give me a complimentary room for the night, which would make the difference in deciding to stay here a second night or start to drive back home that afternoon. I decided to just head over to the French Quarter to wander around for a few hours and then go from there.

Old buildings set against a backdrop of new. And one of those damn no left turn signs I mentioned in part 1.

I started out by browsing some of the shops on Royal Street. It's an interesting mix of shops - you see touristy souvenir t-shirt shops next to stores selling antiques worth more than my house. (I actually saw an article that they're considering evicting the cheap souvenir shops from the French Quarter. It's an interesting debate between the freedom to use a business space for whatever the owner wants vs. preserving the historic feel of the neighborhood.)

So many masks for sale!

Pretty sure this wins the award for tackiest t-shirt that I saw. If you're going to wear fake boobs, wouldn't you at least want better looking ones?

Every color and theme of beads!

I found Nemo in New Orleans!  But wait. What's up with his face? Let's zoom in...

Meth. Nemo has discovered meth. Stay in school, kids.

This was the first antique shop that I stopped in, where I spent several minutes walking around starry eyed and slack jawed. The entire ceiling was dripping with chandeliers, most displaying price tags ranging from $50,000 up to half a million. Whoa. It's such a crazy contrast when you've been wandering shops selling postcards and souvenir shirts. They also sold also a lot of beautiful art and antique furniture, but my eyes were constantly drawn up. I think I walked out with a new chandelier addiction. (Fitting for someone named Crystal, I guess.)

Window of a different shop on Royal. I kind of like how this turned out with the weird mix of reflection, display, and inside the shop. 

Well, of course. How else would you display jewelry?

I was drawn into this shop by the sight of sparkly things and had way too much fun browsing the racks of vintage clothes and costumes. I probably could have spent an entire week in here playing dress-up if they had let me. Speaking of which...

Worst. Selfie. Ever. I had a random photo urge as I passed a mirror, and this is what I got. NICE ONE. And yes, I had been semi-cute until the constant rain drizzles caused me to give in and put on my hoodie. Fashion. I'm representing it. 

It also had the cutest fitting rooms ever. Who doesn't want Prince William watching you get dressed?

Loved the history signs on most of the streets!

I was originally going to smoosh all of my New Orleans goodness into one post, but this is already pretty photo heavy, so I'm going to call it a day here. More soon!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Orleans Trip Part 2: The Hotel Modern

The Hotel Modern was my home for the night in New Orleans.

One thing I liked about this hotel is that it's easy to identify from the outside by its unique design and nighttime lighting. Knowing what to look for made finding it much easier! Valet parking at the hotel is $30 per day, but I did some research before leaving and found multiple lots within a couple of blocks where you could park for $20 or less. I feel like I should do a whole other post about parking in New Orleans - it's kind of crazy! I finally ended up in a lot right next to the hotel where I found a $6 for 9 hours option. Score!

Here you can see the back side of the hotel and the lot that I parked in. There are slightly cheaper lots within a few blocks, but I think this one is the best option if you don't want to carry your bags very far or are arriving late at night like I was. 


That artfully drawn blue dot is my way of marking the hotel. (French Quarter is outlined in red.)

The hotel's location is a huge plus! It's situated right on Lee Circle in the Central Business/Warehouse District, which means it's pretty much across the street from the Lower Garden district in one direction and about 3/4 mile from the French Quarter in the other direction. I know that some people like staying right in the Quarter for easy access, but I really liked the quiet of being slightly outside of it. It's pretty much next door to the WWII museum, so if that's big on your list you might appreciate the proximity! If you happen to be a sports fan, it's just over a mile from the Superdome, so you may be able to just walk over and avoid the crazy parking/traffic situation that tends to come with game days.

Looking back at the hotel from the Cardonette Street trolley stop. 

The hotel is located right on the St. Charles Street streetcar line, so depending on which direction you go you can be just across Canal Street from the French Quarter or over in the Garden District within a matter of a few minutes. (I'll be posting about the streetcars later, if you're looking for tips!)

My photo of the front desk area didn't turn out well, so I borrowed this official one because it's awesome and I think it perfectly captures the check-in experience they're aiming for. 

The front desk of the hotel has almost nothing on it beyond a pitcher of water to refresh you after your travels. One of the staff informed me that they're the only hotel in the city that checks guests in on an iPad. Pretty cool, and as a former front desk person I can't help but wonder how it works out!  I thought it was a little odd that I wasn't given any info about the hotel when I checked in. Given that I come from a Disney resort background, I'm used to spending several minutes telling my guests about the basic features (here's where food is, there's the pool, here's where you catch the bus) when they check in. There was a little pamphlet of info attached to the cardboard sleeve that held my room key, but I didn't discover that until the next day. I also remembered seeing a note on their website about welcome cocktails at check-in, but I wasn't offered one. Maybe because I arrived so late? A drink would have been incredibly welcome after the day I'd just had! (If you missed my post about the drive down, I expected to arrive around 7-8 p.m., but didn't make it until after midnight thanks to lots of road construction!)

One handy note - this hotel charges $50 for incidentals to your card upon check-in. When I finally stumbled into the lobby around 12:30 a.m. and the person checking me in said she needed my card, I was entirely too out of it to think much of it. Only as she was off running it did I realize that it might take awhile to have the charge reversed, and I needed that money for my trip since I basically had exactly enough for gas and food and parking with none to spare. This is one thing that I really wish I'd been informed of beforehand - not having access to that money meant no spending money while I was wandering around the city and no spare funds to stay in a hotel on the drive home if I didn't feel up to tackling the whole drive at once. I've worked at a small 100 room hotel and at the 3rd largest resort in the world (almost 6,000 rooms), and at both we let guests put a credit card on file for incidentals but never actually charged it unless they actually ran up a charge. Doing it that way seems much more practical than having to make every guest go through the inconvenience of waiting for their money to be returned. I've stayed at a couple of other hotels over the years that do pre-charge the card like this, but it's so rare that I feel like giving guests a heads-up when they book their reservation could save a lot of trouble.  (To be fair, this might be a standard New Orleans area thing.)

The lobby is an eclectic mix of decor and has several great sitting areas like this one. It would be a great place to meet up with friends to discuss your plans for the day or trade stories of what you've been up to!

The Room
I have to apologize for the less than stellar quality of my room photos! I snapped most of these just after arriving (aka before I messed stuff up) despite being totally ready to collapse and never had the free time to pull them up on my laptop to make sure they came out ok! I really wish that I'd had more time to actually spend in the hotel - there were less than 12 hours between when I checked in and checked out, and I spent most of those either sleeping or getting ready to leave.

I noticed upon entering my room that instead of the purple accent wall I'd seen online, my room had a grey wall. Way less fun! Given the modern lines of the room, I think that pop of purple makes all the difference in keeping things from being too bare. At least I still had the cool red chair!

My grey wall

Cool purple wall I was expecting - Image via Hotel Modern's website

There was a thoughtful note from the general manager and a gift bag in my room when I arrived. I was delighted to find a few New Orleans treats inside such as the Zapp's potato chips (I'm totally addicted now), a tiny bottle of Tobasco sauce and praline you see above. Yum.

One much appreciated feature: Keurig brewers in every room! Mine had two Rio Blend K-Cups, as well as an English Breakfast tea and a decaf coffee. I'd brought my own can of Starbucks espresso for the morning so I didn't end up using this, but I liked having the option. I love that they provide paper cups so that you can take your coffee with you, but having a couple of regular coffee mugs for in-room use would add a very cozy touch.

Embarrassing fact: I just realized as I was adding this photo... *There*'s the light switch for the overhead lights! I looked all over for that thing when I first arrived! (Told you I was out of it from being exhausted!) 

I really wish that I could tell you that bed is as comfortable as it looks. I know that beds are totally a matter of preference and I saw reviews where some people loved them, but I'm not really into a firm mattress. After a long day of traveling or exploring a city, I want a soft, plush bed that I can sink into. The pillows were also a problem for me - they're huge in terms of thickness/height but also super firm, so it put my neck at an odd angle. I woke up with a hurting neck at around 3 a.m. and ended up grabbing a couple of towels from the bathroom to use as a pillow for the rest of the night.

One nice thing about the all white bedding - it's easy to tell if it's clean! My room and bathroom were totally clean (other than the bit of dust you can see in the Keurig above), and I appreciated that the toiletries in the bathroom had been arranged in a neat presentation, rather than just placed on the counter at random.

Lavender and peppermint scented shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are attached to the inside of the shower. I used my own hair products but did try a bit of the shower gel and liked the invigorating minty scent. There were separate toiletries on the counter, including a bottle of body lotion, a shower cap and a bar of soap.

Each room has a selection of books from the hotel's library. Wish I'd had time to flip through them! The live plant was also a nice touch. It made this little corner feel quite homey.

I had a large King bed room, so I can't really comment on the other sizes (you can also select a small, medium, double, or a suite), but mine was pretty much standard hotel room size. I saw some reviews that mentioned tiny bathrooms, but I found it large enough to get ready in comfortably. (Maybe other rooms have smaller bathrooms?)

The sink and mirrors are directly out of frame to the left. I do wish there had been a tub - a nice soak would have felt amazing after 15 hours in the car!

One random thing that amused me: If you look at the image at the very top of this post, you'll notice that the hotel exterior is washed with colorful lights. It changes colors, too! I discovered that this is done via little blocks of multicolored lights on those strips you see below each row of windows. If you don't close your blinds before drifting off to sleep, you end up with this accidental room decoration!

I took several photos trying to capture it, but my poor phone's camera just couldn't deal with the dark that well. It's hard to tell, but the window was basically glowing rainbow colors while clear white stripes were reflected up onto the ceiling!

Check out the amazing view I woke up to! The hotel is right on Lee Circle, so the rooms facing the roundabout have an awesome view!

I was on the 7th floor so most of the general traffic noise wasn't an issue, but nearby construction noise was noticeable. I was woken up around 8 a.m. by a large maintenance truck (the city's, not the hotel's) doing some kind of work (They appeared to be running a big hose down one of the manhole covers? Whatever it was, it was loud!). It was only mildly annoying for me as I needed to be up before 9 anyway, but I can only imagine how not fun the loud noise would have been for someone who had been out drinking on Bourbon Street late into the night! As for the rest of the hotel, it seemed pretty quiet. My room was right by the elevator but I never heard any elevator noise, although I could hear a bit of noise from the room next to me through the wall.

Everyone I encountered was helpful and attentive, but some were warmer and friendlier than others. To be honest, I was always a little confused about what roles the people around the desk were covering since they didn't seem to have any set uniform or name tags. Am I talking to the valet or the concierge?

Thanks to my late arrival, it was almost noon before I was able to actually head out to explore the city.  (The front desk was kind enough to grant me a noon checkout instead of 11 a.m. which I definitely appreciated! That allowed me to go back to bed for a couple of hours after running down to pay for another 9 hours of parking at 9 a.m. I got to sleep until 11 and still had a spare hour to shower, get dressed, and pack everything back up.) Someone at the desk let me know that they could store my bags while I was out, which I really appreciated since I wasn't fond of the idea of leaving my laptop in my car while I was gone. (The parking lot I used is totally unattended, so anyone could walk right in. Like I said, parking in NOLA is nuts.)

Just before I left, I asked the person at the desk if I could get a photo with Miss Scarlet, their resident parrot mascot, since I'd seen quite a few photos online of people holding her. I was told that I could but they never offered to take her out of her cage or take the photo for me or anything, so all I have is a quick shot of her in her cage. Maybe it was her afternoon rest time or something? It was around 4 pm - usually a pretty prime time for check-ins - so I'm surprised she wasn't out in the lobby doing her mascot gig. She was enjoying whistling at me while she posed, though!

I didn't have the opportunity to check out their bar or restaurant ("Bellocq" and "Trivoli and Lee" respectively) but both get great reviews and I appreciate the perk of having food and drinks on-site! You can also order food from the restaurant as room service. 

Overall, I think the Hotel Modern is a good hotel with the possibility of being great if they work out some of the details. The basics are there: Great location, interesting design, fun little details like the in-room books and parrot mascot... but other aspects seem to be hit or miss judging from my experience and the reviews I've read. The room rate is pretty on par for what you get - it's not the cheapest hotel in town, but definitely not the most expensive, either. All of the rooms are non-smoking, but it is a pet friendly property - something that can be hard to find outside of budget hotels! I really wish that I'd had more time to get a better feel for the place - it's so hard to do that on such a short stay! I do think it's a solid choice for those who want something more modern than staying in one of the historic bed and breakfasts, but want something a little more unusual than one of the big chain hotels.

Note: The Hotel Modern was kind enough to hook me up with a complimentary room in exchange for sharing my experience with you guys. As with all reviews here, I've kept it honest and unbiased, and shared both the pros and cons.

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Orleans Trip Part One: The Never Ending Drive

As you may or may not have noticed, I haven't posted in a while. I've been off on adventures! (And then recovering from them!)

I had plans, y'all. My original plan was to leave my house early Tuesday morning, drive about halfway to Florida and spend the night, continue on the next day and then stay for a little over a week to hang out with my friends. I really wanted to drive this time because not having a car there last time really limited what I was able to do and the friends I was able to visit. The 17-ish hour drive didn't sound fun, but the freedom of having my own transportation to do my own thing while I was in town seemed totally worth it.

A couple of weeks before I planned to leave, I took my car in for an oil changed and asked that they give it a quick once over to make sure nothing major was wrong. They claimed that she had an oil leak, a water pump leak, 2 bad tires and that the air filter needed replacing. Oh... not much, then? I was pretty concerned since I knew there was no way I could afford to fix all of that before leaving. The water pump alone is around $300+ to replace. However, I did some good old fashioned Google-ing and looked up how to tell if you have a leaky water pump. My car fit NONE of the "symptoms". Did they lie to me about the problems in hopes I'd spend a ton of money? I still don't know. Anyway, it made me pretty nervous about the drive but I decided to continue on anyway.

That's my car Apple back when I bought her. After spending so much time together this week, she feels like an extension of my self.

Leaving on Tuesday morning just plain didn't happen. I didn't get to sleep until at least 4 a.m., partly due to trying to do last minute trip things and in part due to a 2 a.m. "OMG, this trip is a terrible idea" freak out. I'd set my clock for 7 with hopes of hitting the road by 8:30, but I either turned my alarm off without waking up or totally missed it because I didn't wake up until almost 9. By the time I finished doing all of those "little" last minute things I'd been convinced could wait until morning, it was already after 11. I was stressed and still had things I needed to do, so I finally admitted defeat and decided to postpone leaving by a day. SUCH a good decision! While I was finishing up things around the house, I got the idea to email a few hotels in New Orleans to see if any might be open to trading a complimentary night for some blog/social media love. NOLA is about 10 hours from my house (according to Google Maps, anyway... more about that later!) and I'd been planning to drive around 9 hours the first day, anyway (Orlando is about 17-18 hours) so spending a night or two in New Orleans wouldn't add that much time to my overall drive and would be way more fun than just stopping somewhere in the middle of Alabama! I heard back from one of my top hotel choices while I was out running errands and literally did a dance of joy in the car. SO EXCITED. I've been wanting to go to New Orleans for years! Plus, I was on a SUPER limited budget for this trip so having a hotel all set for the trip down was a big weight off my shoulders!

I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling much better about everything. Bags were all packed and already mostly in my car, household stuff was all taken care of, and I even knew where I'd be staying that night. I was hoping to leave super early, but actually ended up leaving just after 9 a.m. I figured that with about a 10-11 hour drive, that would put me in around 7-8 pm, which would be perfect: I could get checked in, nap for about an hour and then go out to see the craziness that is the French Quarter at night.

Here's the thing you don't learn in geography class: Arkansas will steal your soul. I remembered that driving through it on my way back from Florida when I moved had been totally hellish because it was mostly a tiny 2 lane road where I'd get stuck going 40 mph for hours on end, so when I planned my route I looked for as many larger highways or interstates as possible. In doing so, I noticed that once I hit Little Rock I could either take the fairly small highway south, or the big interstate over to Memphis and then head down from there. The 2nd route would add about 100 miles to my trip, but I figured out that being able to go 70 mph (Oh, who am I kidding... 85) instead of 55 for several hours would more than make up for the time difference. (Google Maps claimed 11 hours for the Memphis route, 10 hours for taking the smaller highway. I figured they were going by the posted speed limit though, so...)

I took it as a bad sign that the highway they wanted me to take totally disappears from the map after Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Also, I just realized that I screencapped wrong - pretend that the blue line goes all of the way down to Little Rock and then over via the yellow line. I'm way too tired to redo this.

Actual cities in Arkansas that I passed: Palestine, Scotland, Portland, Pickles Gap

Actual billboard I passed in Harrison: "Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white". I wish I was kidding. There's a Huff Post article about it here.

Getting to Little Rock took 4 hours instead of the 3 that it should have, mostly due to some construction, a quick stop for gas and getting behind slow cars. I was so thankful to stop for gas and a quick break - those first three (four) hours are awful. It's all small, windy, hilly roads with few places to pass. There's a lot of driving straight through small towns where the speed limit drops down to 30 or 40 for a few miles. Basically, a lot of the kind of thing that wouldn't be so bad if you were only traveling a few hours, but becomes very frustrating when you know how many miles lie ahead and you just want to get there asap. I usually almost never stop on long road trips, but since I was worried about my car this time I made a point to try to stop every 2 hours for at least 10 minutes to let it cool off a bit.

So by the time I stopped in Little Rock for gas and a good stretch, I was exhausted. Stress has had some negative effects on my body over the past few years, and one is that my energy level tends to be low and I get worn out quickly. Something about stopping made it all hit me like a brick wall, and I absolutely could not imagine still having at least seven more hours to go today. I was already wishing that I could just call it a day. I momentarily even considered getting a hotel room and just driving back home tomorrow. Thankfully I had a "Nope! New Orleans!" moment that gave me the energy to turn the key and get started again. Everything from here was on the interstate, so at least miles would pass much faster and feeling like I was actually making progress would make me feel better. Right?

LOL NOPE. I still can not believe the amount of construction I drove through on those two roads. Instead of zipping along as expected, I spent most of the next 500 miles either slowed down to about 40 to go through work zones, or stuck at a total stand still for 20-30 minutes at a time. So frustrating!

FINALLY, just after 11 pm (remember that I started at 9 am?) I was actually in the outskirts of New Orleans. I was so close I could taste it. And then... more construction. Three lanes of traffic bottle necked down to one. Judging by my map's estimate, I was 15 miles from my hotel and I was totally stopped in traffic again. It took about 20 minutes to get moving again, but eventually I finally made it to my exit, where I managed to accidentally take the ramp to go west instead of east.

You have to be kidding me.

Far away! So close! (image source)

My hotel was RIGHT by this highway, so if I'd taken the right ramp I would have only had to go about half a mile and I'd be there. The one I took popped me out by the Superdome and I had to look around for street names I recognized. I somehow ended up on Canal. I have a pretty decent map of the French Quarter in my head  (Canal runs along one border of the FQ) so I figured that I'd be okay, since I knew all I'd need to do was turn on Camp or St. Charles and they would lead me straight to my hotel. Except I wasn't recognizing any of the street names I was crossing. I quickly realized that I'd turned the wrong direction so I pulled into a gas station to turn back the other way, but while pulling out I hit a GIANT pot hole. Excellent. Sorry, Apple. (She doesn't seem to have gotten damaged in the process, whew!)

Now that I was going the right direction, I started recognizing street names, starting with Rampart (the upper border of the Quarter, which I'd read warnings not to go past. Oops.) I spotted Camp Street, but it was one way (the wrong one). The next street didn't have a sign. I realized after passing it and going a couple of blocks that the signless street was the one I needed. ARRGH. I did what was probably an illegal u-turn and made it back to St. Charles, only to find a no left turns sign at the light. WTF, NEW ORLEANS? I went up a couple of blocks, made *another* u-turn at the first light that allowed left turns, and finally got on St. Charles. VICTORY!

It was only about a mile to my hotel (more about it in another post!) and it was easy to spot. It's located on a roundabout so I planned to just pull up near the entrance while I checked in and then go to one of the lots I'd researched (Parking is crazy expensive in New Orleans). I got to the entrance and... nowhere to park. ARRGH again. Fine, I'll park and just carry my bags over. I was only taking in my laptop and a couple of small bags, so no big deal. I found one of the lots I'd come across in my online search for a way to avoid the $30 valet parking charge and pulled in. I need to do a whole post of parking in NOLA tips, but basically you stick money in the machine and it gives you a receipt with a time you can stay until. This one was something like $12 for 12 hours. I grabbed a $20 to pay and then saw the "no change given." Oh hell no, I'm not sacrificing $8! (I somehow missed that you could also pay by credit/debit card. I'd been driving all day, I was a zombie.) So I decided to just go park in the lot next to the hotel to check in, ask if they could give me change, and then relocate. Magically, this lot had a 9 hours for $6 option! And I actually had a five and a one! OMG THANK YOU I CAN PARK. Seriously, like 20 minutes had elapsed since I'd first spotted the hotel. I just wanted my room, please and thank you.

And thus, around 12:30 am, we end the day and this part of the story. It took me close to an hour to chill out enough to actually sleep. If I'd had any energy at all left I would have gone out to explore, but I was totally wiped out.

I'll post about the hotel next, then about my shenanigans while in town, and then the less horrible drive home. Thanks for sticking around through this novel of a post!

Publix Is Celebrating Earth Day!

Publix and General Mills are celebrating Earth Day!

My favorite promotion from their "Happy Easter" coupon booklet that's out right now (The offers in it book are good until 5/2) is that if you buy any 3 Cascadian Farm 7.1-14.6 oz or Muir Glen 14-18 oz or Larabar 5 ct. products, you get one Publix reusable bag FREE!  I mean first, Larabars are delicious (I just tried the chocolate chip cookie dough kind and they were awesome!).  Plus, I love Publix's reusable bags! (I just used one as a makeshift "suitcase" on my road trip - I figured that anyone looking to break into my car would be less likely to go for what looked like groceries than a big suitcase that looked like it might contain valuables.)

Reusable Bags

Did you know Publix has been selling reusable bags for over 20 years? They estimate that they've saved over 3 billion paper and plastic bags as a result! That's rad! They also strive for improvements in delivery vehicle efficiency, reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and offering products from local sources whenever possible.

Are you guys doing anything special for Earth Day tomorrow? My favorite way to celebrate is to head to Disney's Animal Kingdom! They always have cool celebrations going on since it's also the anniversary of their park opening!

Disclosure: The information and product samples have been provided by General Mills through Platefull Co-Op.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Trying Another Old El Paso Frozen Entree

If you recall my post from National Frozen Food Day back in February, you might remember that Old El Paso sent me some free product coupons to try their new frozen entrees, and instead of branching out and trying a new variety, I stuck with the chicken enchiladas I already have a love for. I looked at the other varieties, I contemplated trying one, but... nope. All of your chicken enchiladas are belong to me.

It would seem that these guys are really set in breaking me out of my rut, because they just sent me more coupons. Point taken! I'll try something new this time! I promise! Back to the grocery store freezer section I go!

Okay, so I didn't change THAT much. But at least they're the beef instead of the chicken! I did spend a minute thinking about getting the chicken burritos instead, but I was seriously craving enchiladas!

Around 40 minutes of oven time later, I had this!

I should take tips from food bloggers on how to better photograph food. I can never make it look flattering, it seems!

So, what's the verdict? I still prefer the chicken enchiladas. Probably not a big surprise since I tend to prefer chicken to beef in general, but I also prefer the chunkier texture of the chicken. I found these to be noticeably spicier than the chicken - I'd classify the beef as medium hotness and the chicken as mild. (Throwing a little extra cheese on top helps balance out the spiciness a bit!)

Have any of you guys tried these yet? What did you think? Should I give in and try the burritos, too?

Disclosure: The information and product package have been provided by Old El Paso® through Platefull Co-Op.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

1,000 Things that Make Me Happy - Part 8

It's been almost an entire YEAR since I posted any additions to my "1000 Things That Make Me Happy" list! (Seriously, the last post was April 20, 2013!) I guess that I kind of ran out of steam after the first half. However, I saw on Twitter last night that Venus Trapped in Mars and Two Thirds Hazel are doing a linkup today for "32 Things That Make Me Happy." I figured that since I usually list 50-100 things at a time, 32 should be a breeze and be a good way to get my list moving again! (Confession: It was not a breeze. Not repeating myself is SO HARD at this point!)

If you'd like to read numbers 1-600, just click here to see all of the other posts from this series! (Some of the images in the old posts don't seem to be working anymore. I need to go through and fix them!)

601. Finding a parking spot where you can pull through and thus not have to back out later.
602. Ordering your first pumpkin spiced latte of the season.
603. That time Welcome to Night Vale favorited my tweet.
604. The weird snore-purr Bear does when he is really happy.
605. All things Doge.

606. Finding a spectacular weekly planner notepad thing (WITHOUT pre-printed dates!) on clearance at Walgreens for 50 cents. It is exactly what I've been needing!
607. My sister went to Olive Garden with my mother last week and she brought me a bowl of Zuppa Tuscana and bag of breadsticks. That's love.
608. My new blender. I have been blending ALL THE THINGS.
609. The "Eclipse" Rifftrax where they have one of the werewolves ask Bella, "How you likin' the rain, girl?" in a Scooby Doo voice.
610. The fact that Ten has exactly one white whisker. (All of the rest are black.)
611. When the cats sleep cute:

612. Getting coupons in the mail from Bath and Body Works for free products! (Especially when it's a free mini candle!!)
613. Cadbury Eggs! It's a good thing they aren't around all year.
614. When someone says that they were just thinking about you.
615. The upcoming Diagon Alley expansion at Universal! I admit that Hogsmeade was a little less awesome than I anticipated, but I'm still excited for more Potter stuff!
616. Target's Cartwheel app. Scanning stuff in the score is fun, and I get all excited when there's a discount available.
617. Art history snap chats:

618. #TotallySillyHashtagsForComedicEffect
619. Yoga poses that randomly make me burst out laughing. It happens most frequently with asanas I've never tried before. Such a weird reflex!
620. The fact that Orlando is finally getting a MLS team next year!
621. The feeling of bad-assery that comes from figuring out how to do on your own something you'd usually ask for help for. (This is part of why I think everyone should live alone for at least a year!)
622. When I get sucked into Pinterest and suddenly it's three hours later.
623. The fact that I can tell my cats apart by their meows. #CatLadySkills
624. People who debunk Pinterest myths and save the rest of us the trouble of actually trying those things.
625. I just got home from a church yard sale where they handed out free coffee and cookies in line. (Some people lined up 3 hours before they opened!) The sale wasn't great, but free coffee and cookies will always make me happy.

626. Using all 7 letters in a word in Words With Friends.
627. A new book by a favorite author.
628. When Jamie includes the perfect song to make a point or set a mood on The British History Podcast.
629. Getting brilliant ideas in the shower.
630. The simple fact that duct tape now comes in so many nifty colors and designs. The world is a beautiful place.
631. Getting all 3 seats to myself on an airplane.
632. I somehow didn't discover Laci Green on YouTube until very recently, but she's kind of my new favorite person.

 It feels weird stopping at this number, but I'm totally out of ideas for today, so I'm thankful I was only aiming for 32!