Trip Review: ARIA Las Vegas Resort & Casino

This past week, I headed out to the desert for a work conference, same as I do 2-3x  a year, every year. But this time I stayed somewhere new – the Aria. And it was pretty damn magical, friends.

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Not only was my room super nice, but it also had what I will now consider the gold-standard in bathrooms from here on out: there was both a bathtub, and a bench, inside the stand-up shower.

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Yes, you read that right. I could shower off, then bathe, overflow the tub if I so desired, then sit down and enjoy a little steam ALL IN THE SAME ROOM. Mind = blown. #bathroomgoals

And my view wasn’t too shabby either:

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Beyond all that, though, the service really set it apart. Since I’m an MLife Platinum member, I got to enjoy priority checkin, never having to wait in the taxi line, and this free upgrade to a strip-view room. Every interaction I had with the Aria staff (from asking directions to getting breakfast room service delievered) was phenomenal.

As for the rest of the conference, I got to see IBM’s CEO and Chairman of the board, Ginny Rometty. I got to see Will Smith. And I got to see a great concert featuring Andy Grammer and the Zac Brown Band. Not too shabby for a trip paid entirely by my work.

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Even better, because of a partnership between Hyatt and MLife, the trip will actually earn me a nice little sum of Hyatt points. And, my Southwest flights that took me to Vegas (also paid through work) was the final little push needed to help me re-earn my Companion Pass Status for 2017 & 2018.

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So, in addition to just taking a very nice work trip, I’ve also set myself up for my next several vacations. That’s some #winning in Vegas that I’m definitely a fan of.

Building a Raised-Bed Berry Bramble

My name is Whitney, and I’m a mail-order gardening catalog addict. (Hi, Whitney.)

And that’s why, at some point in the dormancy of winter, I apparently decided to order a whole bunch of plants that I simply did not have room for in my existing self-watering raised bed garden, or even my in-ground partial-shade garden beds.

In particular, I ordered a bunch of blueberries, which, as any gardener worth their salt will tell you requires a very particular type of planting media. And a media that’s not generally found in Texas, mind you.

So there was only one thing left to do…build another raised bed garden. Unlike my other, 8′ x 4′ x 4′ garden, this one could be a bit smaller. The total proportions were 8′ x 2′ x 1′. But the really big difference here is that we were not going to be including the self-wicking reservoir, but instead placing this directly into the ground.

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The first step was to build the box, which the hubby took care of, while I pulled out the sod and began digging down a bit in the destination location. We dug out roughly four inches of soil, and placed it on a tarp to reincorporate later.

Finally, we lined the opening with a landscaping material to prevent weeds from growing through (or the grass from growing back in, and stapled it to the sides of box once we got it in place. Then it was just a matter of filling it back up.

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Blueberries love an acidic, well-drained soil, so we settled on a soil mix of:

  • 50% peat moss
  • 20% the soil we’d dug out
  • 20% sand
  • 10% compost

And with that, the blueberry plants went in!  We probably won’t get any berries this first year, but with a little luck, we’ll be awash in berries by this time next year. Stay tuned!

Healthy Make-Ahead Lunch: Southwest Chicken Salad

It has been said that Southerners like chicken salad a little *too* much. And it doesn’t escape my memory that I have not just one, but two different chicken salad recipes on this blog already.

But today, I made a batch of our favorite “healthy” chicken salad — with no mayonnaise, no added sugar, and tons of protein and fiber. A big batch makes enough for four pack ahead lunches, and keeps well the whole week long in the fridge.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 12-oz can of black beans in water (look at the ingredients – you’ll find lots of things hiding in your beans, if you’re not careful. We look for ones that only have beans and salt.
  • 1 cup of corn (either fresh, canned, or frozen will work)
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Fresh cilantro (optional)
  • Vinaigrette (Either homemade, below, or use a storebought Zesty Italian)
    • 2 tbsp high quality olive oil
    • 1/4 cup orange juice
    • 1 tbsp lime juice
    • 1 tbsp white vinegar
    • 1 & 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp pepper
    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • Add all ingredients to a small tupperware container, put the lid on it, and shake vigorously until fully emulsified

Directions: 

  1. Cook your chicken. I prefer to boil it in chicken broth until fully cooked through, but if you want a smokier, meatier taste, you could roast it as well. Once cooked, set aside to cook until cool enough to handle.
  2. Split your jalapeno in half and remove the stem and seeds. Peel your two garlic cloves. Then add both the jalapeno and garlic to your food processor, and process until finely minced (you may have to scrape down the sides once or twice). Next, add your chicken to the food processor and pulse until chicken is just shredded but still chunky, and the garlic and pepper are incorporated.
  3. Move your warm chicken mixture to a large mixing bowl, and top with your vinaigrette (either homemade or store bought).
  4. Add all remaining ingredients, then stir to combine. Season to taste; if you enjoy cilantro, add a nice fresh bunch just before serving. Portion out your lunches into tupperware, and you’re ready to go!

Retail Therapy Without the Guilt (or Expense!)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we spent a pretty good chunk of change in our recent living room remodel. So, in keeping with our Mustachian ways, that means we’re tightening our wallets a bit over the next month or so, to even out that additional expense.

That being said, you can imagine how pleased I was today when some FREE MONEY just showed up in my inbox, allowing me to do a little shopping without the guilt or cost that normally comes with such activities.

How? Well, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of airline and hotel loyalty programs. But as it turns out, many retail outlets have their own loyalty programs as well. And West Elm, where we purchased our new couch, is part of a loyalty program called “The Key”.

I took the 30 seconds or so to sign up for this program before I punched in my credit card details for the couch purchase, and poof! Three months later, a credit for $67 showed up in my email. Even better, I could choose from between 7 stores (including Pottery Barn, West, Elm, and William-Sonoma) for where to spend it.

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So, after perusing the many beaded pillows and terrariums and finials and all other matter of stuff that pretty much no one on Earth *actually* needs, we settled on two items from Williams-Sonoma: a wine decanter (to replace an old one that cracked) and a spoon rest for the stove (which I’ve been talking about getting for ages).

The subtotal came out to just under $58. I applied a coupon code I found online for free shipping, and then with tax, my “total” was $62.73. I added the certificate number from my email, and voila — my purchase was free. I didn’t even have to enter a credit card number!

The lesson here is always to take a couple minutes to research your “reward” options, especially on large purchases. Our typical order-of-operation goes something like this:

  1. Check for coupon codes using Honey or RetailMeNot
    • If not, check to see if you can get bonus points for purchasing the item by going through a travel shopping portal (like Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping).
  2. Check to see if there’s a statement credit available through Amex Offers, if you’re an Amex card holder.
  3. Check to see if you can get free shipping by meeting a certain subtotal amount or through a service like ShopRunner, which is a free benefit of many Amex cards.
  4. Check to see if you can sign up for a loyalty rewards program through the merchant, or if they participate in an umbrella program, like Plenti.
  5. If the retailer gives you any sort of discounts to use in the future with your purchase (like with Kohl’s Cash, or Old Navy Super Cash), mark them on your calendar so you don’t forget about them.
  6. If it was a really large purchase (over $300 or so), keep your eye on the price of the item over the next 60 days or so, then avail yourself to your credit card price protection benefits if the item’s price decreases.

So take the extra time, and you might just run into a free shopping opportunity yourself!