Saturday, September 27, 2014

You Had Me at Chocolate. (Okay, and at HELLO.)

This post is brought to you by Lindt HELLO, but the enthusiasm about chocolate (and the cat) are my own. (Seriously, you can't have my cat.)

Sometimes, being a blogger is a pretty sweet gig.

Earlier this week, I was asked if I'd like to try out the new line of HELLO chocolate from Lindt and tell you guys about it. Eating a bunch of chocolate was a lot of work, but someone's gotta do it, right?

This is what happens when I try to photograph just about anything that is not a cat. It becomes a cat photo whether I wanted it to or not. And yes, Grem only has 1 1/2 ears. He says hi.

The new Lindt HELLO line of chocolates comes in three different shapes - sticks and minis, both of which I've been nibbling on for the past two days...

My store was out of the Strawberry Cheesecake sticks. Sad! The minis are perfect for taking to a movie to share with a friend or significant other, btw! You can also buy bags of the chocolate minis that are all one flavor, but I love this mixed bag for trying them all!

...And larger chocolate bars. All three of these forms come in all four delicious flavors. I've been trying to pick a favorite, and I still can't! I think it's between the Strawberry Cheesecake and the Caramel Brownie, but my mind might change the next time I take a bite of one of the other two!

Definitely happy that I said hello to these! Then again, I'm not usually shy about saying hi and making connections. I've met some of my favorite people by starting up random conversations (usually on Twitter these days - I'm such a social media addict!) and just seeing where they go. There's nothing to lose by saying hello, and you never know where the conversation might go - new friends, new networking contacts, new love, or just a fun exchange of ideas! I recently woke up to my phone totally freaking out with notifications because a person with a ton of Twitter followers that I'd been chatting with a bit had retweeted something I said, and within a short time it had something like 26 retweets and 89 favorites, and I had a new pal. (Um, and Taye Diggs followed me. No big deal or anything.) (OMG.)

And then there was this week, when my favorite news show host (and imaginary boyfriend) totally commented on my Jay Z joke: 

 I'll admit, I swooned a little, typos and all. #nerdycrushes I actually shared my bag of  chocolate minis with my mom while watching Chris's show at her house last night!

Following that idea of a hello leading somewhere interesting, Lindt has partnered with Ashley Tinsdale to create a super cute romantic comedy web series called "It Started with HELLO." The first two episodes are already up (You can check them out here!) and the next two will come out on October 2nd and 9th. Love that you can choose alternate endings to watch, and recognizing a few famous YouTube stars! And it's ok, I won't judge you if you snack on more than two minis while you watch, especially if you share some with me!

There's also a great sweepstakes going on where you can win some sweet prizes! (Pardon the pun.) Here's what you can win!

Girls Just Want to Have Fun (9/24 – 9/30)
• Enjoy a shopping spree with the girls + yummy Lindt HELLO Chocolate!

Sweet Staycation (10/1 – 10/7)
• Lindt HELLO treats you to a pampered night in – movies, books + chocolate!

Besties Reunion (10/8 – 10/14)
• Reconnect with your bestie at the spa for a day + Lindt HELLO chocolate to sweeten the deal.

Just Click Here to enter the Lindt HELLO Sweet Connections Sweepstakes - It's quick and easy, and you can enter once a day, which means 7 entries for each prize! If you win, be sure to tell me about it!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blue Spring Heritage Center

This post has moved over to my new blog! It can now be accessed here: Blue Spring Heritage Center in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Exploring Bentonville

After visiting the Museum of Native American History, I still had a little time before check-in at my hotel, so I found a parking spot in the square of downtown Bentonville and did some wandering around. There are quite a few shops and restaurants within a block or two of this central park, which made it easy to explore on foot without getting lost. 

I was impressed by how many cute, unique little boutiques like this were around! Tons of fun, unique merchandise, and the prices weren't bad, either. 

I think this dressing room was mocking me. (Seriously considered buying this dress - it was on sale! But there was some major side-bra action happening, so I passed.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

What I've Been Reading This Summer

I last posted a What I've Been Reading roundup back in May, so I really need to catch up! Here's a quick look at a few of the books I've read lately.

Bang in the Middle by Robert Shore

I'm a total travel book addict and the UK is one of my favorite regions to read about. Spotting this book on NetGalley made me realize that I really don't know that much about the Midlands, so I picked it up to see what I could learn. England is a little like the US in that certain areas have specific identities - for instance, if I tell you that someone lives in New England, you probably have a different image spring to mind than if I tell you they live in Florida. Brits tend to have a similarly solid idea of what someone from the North is like vs someone from the South, but much like our Midwest, the midlands are pretty fuzzy in terms of a clear identity. Despite being the birthplace of many famous names (Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, and Tennyson... the poet, not my cat.) the Midlands are mostly known as an industrial area of mines and factories. Bang in the Middle came about from the author's quest to answer his son's question about where he's from. How do you explain a region with no easily defined identity?

The book is broken down into one city for each chapter, visiting Mansfield, Nottingham, Meltam Mowbray,  Grantham, Northampton, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Coventry, Birmingham, Lichfield, Stoke-On-Trent, Chatsworth and The Crags along the way. If you're like me, you've probably heard of most of these but don't know much of anything about them. (Other than the obvious Shakespeare/Stratford connection, and maybe Nottingham/Robin Hood.) I can't say that I came out of the book feeling like any kind of Midlands scholar, but I do definitely feel a bit better informed. 

There are sections where the author goes off on a tangent that while related in some way, isn't all that much about the actual location, which leaves me wondering if there was just nothing there to write about. (For example, almost the entire Lichfield chapter is about heavy metal music. Totally interesting to read, but not that informative when it comes to understanding Lichfield. He brings the narrative back around to the fact that Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne are both from Birmingham, but again... not about Lichfield.)

Despite several references to the Staffordshire Hoard in earlier chapters, I was starting to think that the author would never get around to actually discussing it, so I was happy that the hoard, as well as a bit about Mercia in general, were discussed in the Chatsworth chapter. (If you're interested in awesome in depth info about the Staffordshire Hoard, the British History Podcast interviews with some of the experts involved are here! A very worthwhile listen. You're welcome for the kind plug for your show, Jamie. You owe me coffee now.)

I'd recommend this book to those who want to fill in some gaps in their British geographical knowledge, anyone planning to visit the area, or, of course, Midlanders who are are totally excited to see their region talked about for a change. However, if it's not something that you already have at least a bit of interest in, it's probably not going to spark any kind of new passion.

Zac and Mia by AJ Betts
Let's be honest, right now when you think teens and cancer, The Fault In Our Stars pops to mind instantly. I'll be honest and tell you that I haven't read the John Green novel of so much fame, but from what I can tell there are quite a few differences. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the two title characters during their time in and out of a cancer ward.

One thing that I really appreciate about this book is that Mia is NOT the "manic pixie dream girl" that has become such a cliche. She's not one of those Mary Sue characters who is "flawed" in that OMG! She sometimes stumbles or trips over things! Nope, Mia has real flaws, and she's not always that likeable.

It's an engaging, quick read that I zipped through in one night. I think this would especially appeal to teens who have been through medical issues, for obvious reasons, but also because the two kids feel authentic - they act like actual teenagers, not the idea of teens that a lot of YA authors seem to have.

I also finally read Great Expectations last month after suddenly realizing that I never had! I was taking a "Literature of the English Country House" course through Future Learn,which included close readings of excerpts of several novels and poems, one of which was this Dickens classic. I was surprised that the pages I read were totally unfamiliar, I had somehow always categorized it as "already read" in my brain. Oops! Anyway, it's now moved over to that category for real, and it was quite enjoyable!

Read anything awesome lately that I should know about?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Simmons Suites in Bentonville, AR

"It's a really clean hotel," comments the soaking wet man standing next to me. "Everything is really nice."

I've just spent about half an hour soaking in the Simmons Suites hot tub with the towel-wrapped older couple sharing the elevator with me, as well as a pair of college students from south Arkansas. We did the usual travel thing of swapping "What did you do today?" "Where are you going tomorrow?" stories that always helps distract from the concept that you're in a bubbling bowl of water with a bunch of strangers. Back on dry land, I had just remarked about how clean the elevator was - elevators being one of those spots that you often see neglected by hotel housekeepers. Not even dust or dirt in the very floor corners. Impressive.

With my background in the hospitality industry, I know how hard it can be to keep things in good repair, but this place does an impressive job. The furnishings are modern and comfortable, free from the dents or scuff marks that often come about from constant use by clumsy or careless guests. The glass shower door is so clean and streak-free that if I probably would have walked straight into it if it hadn't been open.

Blogger mirror selfie! Well, half of one! That door behind me is one of two closets in the suite! Clearly they understand how much I pack.

Oh, how I love when hotels provide makeup wipes! 

I spent the night here on the Bentonville part of my Labor Day weekend getaway to Arkansas. There are quite a few hotels in Bentonville, but the vast majority are of the fairly generic chain variety, so I spent some time exploring the independently owned options. I ended up settling on Simmons Suites because it had a super convenient location, complimentary hot breakfast, free wifi and got great reviews online. Turned out to be a great choice!

I used this as a desk for my laptop, but it would also work as a dining table.

The kitchen was fully equipped with coffee, dish soap, silverware and dishes, as well as a microwave that you can't see in this shot.

You will be proud to hear that I actually used the TV. I mean, it was to watch msnbc news shows at night, but still. Leisure! Also, that chair was super comfy. 

The view from my room reminded me of the opening of the Sims games where they pan over the city streets. Being on the 4th floor also meant I got a great view to watch a storm roll in!

Guess who remembered to pack their wide angle lens for this trip? Booyah! Almost the whole room in one shot.

I can't even express what a great location this is if you're exploring Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas! It's so convenient to everything - it's literally 5 minutes from downtown Bentonville, 5 minutes from Crystal Bridges museum, 10 minutes from the Museum of Native American History, and about 10 minutes from the big Pinnacle Promenade shopping center in Rogers. (Watch for my upcoming posts about those!) It's near the intersection of Highway 49 and AR-72/Central Ave, which is one of the main streets through town, which made getting around super easy even though I'd never been to Bentonville before.

There's a little shop in the hotel lobby that has a pretty wide assortment of packaged snacks and frozen treats, as well as items like toiletries that you may have forgotten. (If you need something not available there, there's a Conoco gas station about a block's walk away.) There's also a coffee station so you can grab a cup on your way in or out. Yay, coffee!

hotel lobby coffee

Nothing gets me out of bed on vacation like the promise of breakfast, even though I rarely have more than coffee at home. I was definitely impressed with the selection. Let's be honest here - free food makes me happy!

continental breakfast waffle station
Hooray for waffles!

I wasn't comfortable taking a bunch of photos in the breakfast area since people were eating in there, and nobody wants a pic of themselves with a mouth full of bacon on the internet without knowing about it. In addition to the waffle iron above, there were several cereal choices, cups of Yoplait yogurt, milk cartons, a Minute Maid juice machine with several selections (go half cranberry, half apple! nom!), a selection of tea, oatmeal packets, muffins, bread for toast, English muffins, and a hot food area with breakfast taquitos and biscuits and gravy. (When I went back down about an hour later to grab more juice, the taquitos were replaced by bacon and eggs, so I suppose it changes!)

Yes, I totally got gravy on my banana nut muffin. Yes, I ate it anyway.

I'm hoping to go back to Northwest Arkansas in a couple of months when the weather has cooled off a bit so I can do some of the outdoorsy things that I missed due to the 90+ degree temps this time, so there's a good chance I'll be staying here again soon! Overall, it offered everything I need in this kind of hotel. They're not reinventing the wheel here, just doing the basics especially well. 

Disclosure: Simmons Suites provided me with a night's stay in exchange for sharing my honest opinions and experiences. No other compensation was received.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ten Things on Tuesday - Volume 22

1. Yes, I missed TWO weeks of doing 10 Things! In a row! Oops. 

2. I can't believe U2 basically pulled a Beyonce and released their album today! FOR FREE. It took about half an hour of fighting with iTunes, but I finally got it to download! Listening now. No stand out favorites yet, but I'm sure some songs will grow on me more than others. I really hope this means tour plans soon! I miss my U2 tour buddies!

3. It is entirely possible that I drove an extra 20 miles yesterday to run errands in Springfield instead of Branson entirely because I recently found out that a Moe's opened there. Moe's is one of the main things I miss about Orlando, and I've been missing it ever since I left! I can't tell you how happy I was to stuff myself with chips, salsa, and queso! (Yep, I rarely even get a burrito or anything, just gimmie queso and tons of salsa!) Now I just need a Tijuana Flats nearby and I can grow fat and happy.

4. Speaking of my super healthy eating habits, I'm kinda addicted to the Cinnabon bite things from Taco Bell. SO GOOD. Especially with coffee. I just wish there was a size between the 4 and 12 packs.

5. I'm thinking about replacing my phone. I almost NEVER replace my technology stuff until the old one is 100% dead because a) I'm poor, and b) I just can't buy into the culture of being convinced we "need" the latest updated thing constantly. My phone has been a little off ever since I dropped it in the bathtub several months ago, though, and it's just getting wonkier. For instance, people can only hear me on calls if I use speakerphone. THAT is annoying. The mic also barely works for video. And recently my notifications haven't been quite right for almost every app. The price of my exact phone has dropped a LOT since I got it back in December - I can get it on sale for like $50 now, so it's not a huge investment comparatively. But ugh, I can also survive without replacing it for a while longer, and I have way better uses for that $. Yes? No? Maybe?

6. In case you didn't notice, I ended up just going to Arkansas for the long Labor Day weekend instead of off on my much longer road trip. I decided that what I really needed right now was a fun but chill getaway that wasn't a crazy huge drive. Ended up in Bentonville and Eureka Springs, which are only about 90 min and an hour away from me respectively. It worked out to be a perfect balance of doing interesting things and just hanging out relaxing. Several posts about my shenanigans are in the works!

7. Part of the reason I decided to delay major road trip action is that I'm STILL dealing with car stuff. I finally got the wipers fixed (yay!) and the belt replaced, but I still need my brakes to stop squealing and the cracked tire replaced, and I think I also need the tires aligned/balanced because my car is doing that really charming thing where it shakes when I go 60-65 mph. D'oh! Fingers crossed I can tackle all of those things soon - I have places to go and things to see!

8. Do any of you guys have an Instagram for your blog (or business), and also a personal account? Having two works out really well for following different groups of people, but I can never decide what to post to each one. Suggestions?

9. Kitten gif of the week:

10. I'm working on a Fashion Week post, but every time I browse through an awesome collection, it makes me want to abandon everything and go spend all day at my sewing machine! I really need to create something new soon!

Happy Tuesday, peeps! <3 p="">

Friday, September 05, 2014

Museum of Native American History

Opening those giant doors is kind of fun. 

The Museum of Native American History was a big factor in my decision to spend the first night of my long weekend in Bentonville, AR instead of Eureka Springs. I'm a bit of a history nerd in general, but since I'm about 1/3 Cherokee and some unknown fraction Blackfoot, I find Native American history especially interesting. 

The museum is located just a few minutes outside of downtown Bentonville and only about ten minutes from my hotel. It's pretty easy to spot from the street...

outside the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville
"So, uh, you think that might be the place?"

Just inside the entrance doors, you're greeted by the skeleton of a wooly mammoth, as well as one of my favorite items from the whole museum.