Top 10 Must-Haves for Travel: Paris

Our first international trip was successful and by far our favorite. Upon returning home, I posted several top items I would totally recommend for international travel. I still stand by the list if you were doing what we had done on that trip; 6 countries in nearly 4 weeks, with a lot of time spent on the road, in trains, planes, hostels and hoofing it from one city to another.

Eiffel Tower Water Color. Photo Credit: Jackie Ostlie

Eiffel Tower Water Color. Photo Credit: Jackie Ostlie

But alas our trip to Paris did not comprise of hostels, Starbucks Via coffee or a need for nalgenes. After returning from our Parisian adventure, I realized my original list needed to be amended. I know, I know. But, I can guarantee you would too if you spent the first six days in the most fashionable city in the world with no luggage. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. This brings my husband’s passion for minimalism and light-weight to a whole different level. And I hate to admit it…again. But I’m officially sold.

Below is what I left Seattle with.  We’ve always traveled with our backpacking packs. But alas, these packs failed to meet us in Paris when we landed on Christmas Eve.  And when it finally did get to us, we had already been surviving without it for nearly a week that we barely touched anything we originally packed. That tells you something. Despite culling down our stuff over the weeks and days leading up to the trip, we really didn’t need most of the crap we took with us.

Marc and my REI pack

Marc and my REI pack…the pack never made it to Paris. Luckily, Marc did.

1. Bring the right purse for the right occasion: I love my Marc Jacobs, Too Hot To Handle purse. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I took it with me to Paris. From previous trips, I assumed I would need it but honestly, I used it maybe twice or three times at most. It became a burden to carry around. I finally hid it between clothes or towels so the hotel maids wouldn’t steal it. I ended up just shoving my wallet, gloves, and cell in my coat pockets. Which leads me to this. The Marc Jacobs Classic Q Natasha Mini Crossbody.  It was one of the first purchases I made when I came home. It’s a bit smaller than my other Marc bags and it’s taken some adjustments but so far it stores the essentials I would need for traveling. And for those who know me well, it was painful to buy a black purse. But let’s say Paris influenced me in more ways than one.

Marc by Marc Jacobs. Classic Q Natasha

Marc by Marc Jacobs. Classic Q Natasha

2. Carry-ons all the way:  I wish we stuck to our own advice but well, hindsight is 20-20. Another purchase we made when we came home was new packs. I like to call it an ‘investment’ but really  it was an excuse to buy new gear…if we’re being honest.  So far I’ve used for weekend getaways and am in love. I’ve already tried stuffing it with a paired down version of what I used in Paris and everything fits! I don’t think I ever would have said this before I married Kyle, but I can proudly carry a month or more worth of clothes and must-haves in this 40L pack.

Osprey Farpoint 40L. Photo Credit: REI.com

Osprey Farpoint 40L. Photo Credit: REI.com

3. Good gloves: I brought a pair of JCrew convertable glove to mittens but never wore them. The main reason? I fell in love with this Muji gloves I picked up  at a little Paris boutique. They are the only gloves which allow me to access my iphone , take photos, and navigate the Paris Metro app in the middle of a Parisian winter.   I’ve worn these every days since I’ve been back home and can’t sing it enough praise. I’d also suggest you take advantage of their winter sale. All gloves are $15 which is significantly cheaper than what I paid for these puppies in Paris.

Muji Touchscreen Gloves  Photo Credit: muji.us

Muji Touchscreen Gloves. Photo Credit: muji.us

4. Fresh Lip Treatment: I’m a huge fan of Fresh skin care but this was the first colored lip treatments I used. Needless to say, I’m addicted and a fan for life. Their lip treatments add the right amount of color, moisturizes, and protects your kissable pooch with SPF 15.  For a trip like Paris, I’d recommend their Cherry color or Petal. Cherry was the perfect pop of color I needed to walk the romantic and trendy streets in the City of Light.

Fresh Lip Treatment. Photo Credit: Fresh.com

Fresh Lip Treatment. Photo Credit: Fresh.com

5. Kate Spade Coin PurseWe don’t typically carry cash with us when we travel but every so often we need to refuel at the cafes and boulangeries that carried our favorite chocolate au pain and who also doesn’t take cards. This lovely coin purse helped sort out our euros and change along with our metro tickets.

Kate Spade coin purse. Photo Credit: katespade.com

Kate Spade coin purse. Photo Credit: katespade.com

6. Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf: As mentioned in my earlier international travel faves post, these scarves are always my go-to for travel. But don’t take my word for it. Watch this awesome, adorable video that shows you 10 ways to wear the vinyasa and why you should be getting one for your next trip!

7. A multi-purposed coat: Preferably a water repellent/proof coat that looks just as great on the runway as it does on the street. I’ll let you in on a secret….I brought three coats w/ me. A Patagonia down sweater (that was stuffed in my carryon), my fave REI trench, and this beauty. It’s a Merrell water repellent coat that’s lined, including pockets and hood.  Honestly, I couldn’t decide between the three and knowing it was going to be the same weather as Seattle didn’t help things. But as my pictures can attest to, I lived in this coat for 3 weeks. If it’s good enough for Paris, it’s good enough for me!

Merrell Women's Geraldine Coat. Photo Credit: Merrell.com

Merrell Women’s Geraldine Coat. Photo Credit: Merrell.com

 

8. An umbrella: Unlike Seattle, locals and tourists carry these alike and there are no judgements. Also, this was our very first purchase when we landed in the city of lights and I’m really glad we bought two. It rained and poured during our time in Paris and we definitely used these daily to get us from one Musee to another.

Compact Traveler Umbrella

Photo Credit: Rei.com

9. Quick drying socks and undies: Though this is on our Paris list, we always travel with quick drying socks and undies. This came in quite handy when our luggage never arrived. Luckily my mom, former corporate business woman who also traveled across the US for decades, instilled in me over three decades to always take an extra pair of socks and underwear in our carryons. And seriously, praise God for Smartwool socks and ExOfficio undies. This saved both of our asses in more way than one.

Smartwool socks and ExOfficio undies. Photo Credit: Jackie Ostlie

Smartwool socks and ExOfficio undies. Photo Credit: Jackie Ostlie

10. Great boots: I’m not exaggerating when I say we walked no less than eight miles a day. On some days, upwards of thirteen if not more. Walking, running, trudging, to and from cafes, perusing all museums, parks, and metros will most certainly add to the miles walked and you want to make sure you do so looking smart and being the most comfortable. Because God knows I am most certainly not wearing my Sauconys to Paris. But, I’m not going to lie; with that amount of mileage your feet will still hurt and ache as mine did. But these puppies will most certainly help while making you look all the bit stylish! Also, my concern for snow and sleet were a non-issue. There was non and even if there was, these would have worked out perfectly!

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Sam Edelman “Petty Bootie.” Photo Credit: Nordstrom.com

 

And that my friends is a fashionista’s list for surviving a winter in Paris. Throw in a pair of jeans, leather pants and two wool sweaters and you are set!

Pyramids at The Louvre. Photo Credit: Jackie Ostlie

Pyramids at The Louvre. Photo Credit: Jackie Ostlie

 

I hope this list will help you cull things down a bit. If anything, remember….you can always go shopping! You are in the most fashionable city in the world. And if you can’t afford Louis Vuitton, just hit up Zara.

 

Paris Part 3: Top 20 Favorites Continued

Missed the first 10 of the Top 20 list? Don’t fret! It’s right here along with a list of tips and tricks to survive Paris here.

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This should be of no surprise, but finishing out the Top 20 Favorites of our trip to Paris are macarons!

11. Maison Georges Larnicol

Maison Georges Larnicol Macarons

Maison Georges Larnicol Macarons

A dear friend who lives and breathes all Parisian food recommended we visit this sweet shop and we instantly feel in love. While the tourists flock to Laudree and Angelina the locals hit up Masion Georges Larnicol. Though the former are both delicious in their own right, we tend to follow the locals. Back to MGL; It seems there are hundreds of various chocolates, sweet breakfast pastries, meringue, macarons galore. Even their window displays are worth stopping in to admire.  Recommended servings of French macarons? Daily.

Our favorites were: Vanilla, Bergamot (Early Grey), Rose, and Currant (Blackberry).

12.  Musée d’Orsay

This was by far one of our top three museum and for good reason.There are benches throughout the museum on all floors to give your footsies a break, the interiors are full to the brim not only of history but personality and individuality, and the artwork are diverse and interesting to hold your attention for hours and hours.

Musée d'Orsay

Formerly an old railroad station, this has now become a must see museum while in Paris. And be sure to look up! The ceiling alone a piece of artwork that is absolutely breathtaking.

Musée d'Orsay

Clock at the Musée d'Orsay

Clock at the Musée d’Orsay

13. Restaurant la cherche Midi- on Rue du Cherche Midi

From the same friend (thanks Tim!) who recommended Maison Georges Larnicol, also recommended this amazing Italian restaurant. Typical Parisian, the tables are close together, the food fresh and tasty, the wine delicious, and English far and few between.

Fresh Pasta and Ravioli at Fresh Pasta and Ravioli

We were the only tourists and English speakers to tout. Our other favorite is that this foodie heaven is less than one block away from Bd Raspail and Boulangerie Poilane (noted on Part 2 of our Paris Favorites).

14. Musée Rodin

There’s something to be said for sculptures especially when they are modeled after the human body. I fell in love with the passion, acute details, and remarkable humanity found in Rodin’s sculptures.

 

The Kiss: My favorite sculpture at the Rodin

The Kiss: My favorite sculpture at the Rodin

 

A woman at the Musee Rodin

 

Musée Rodin Garden

Musée Rodin Garden

15. Croque Monsieurs are a must eat while in Paris, but be sure to try a Croque Provençal (same as Monsieur but with tomatoes).  Divine. I seriously could eat this every single day.

Croque Provençal

Croque Provençal

16. The Carousels

You don’t have to be a Parisian to appreciate a carousel. But what sets Paris apart from other cities we’ve visited is that Parisian adults and kids alike love their carousels and these things of beauty are everywhere.

White Carousel

White Carousel

A carousel at the Eiffel Tower

A carousel at the Eiffel Tower

A carousel in front of the Church of Saint Sulpice

A carousel in front of the Church of Saint Sulpice

Close-Up of the Saint Sulpice Carousel

Close-Up of the Saint Sulpice Carousel

17. The Louvre and the Gardens

The Louvre

The Louvre

The Louvre at night.

The Louvre at night.

Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe this museum. You could visit this museum every day for months and you still wouldn’t see every single piece of art here. Honestly, this museum was a love-hate relationship for me. There were parts I hated, like the room of the Mona Lisa where it felt like all humanity was lost or the Egyptian galleries in the Sulley Salon where tourists jostled mummy after mummy. It completely drained all the beauty and mystery and awe out of the experience. And then my breathe would stop when seeing this….

A sculptured piece I fell in love with...knight being brought home

A sculptured piece I fell in love with…knight being brought home.

My favorite part of the Louvre. The Richelieu Salon.

My favorite part of the Louvre. The Richelieu Salon.

A perfect balance of dark and angelic

Louvre Jardins (gardens)

Louvre Jardins (gardens)

18.  Amorino Gelato 

We stumbled upon this little dessert shop while staying in the Saint Germain/Latin Quarter neighborhood and I’m so glad we did. We made friends and had the most beautiful gelato in our lives. Be sure to pop by to one of the Amorino stores and get a personally made flower just for you! It’s an experience you just have to have!!

Three different flavors make up this beautiful gelato flower.

Three different flavors make up this beautiful gelato flower.

Friendships made over gelato

Friendships made over gelato

19. Bastille Neighborhood and Sunday Market

The Bastille standing tall in front of the market.

The Bastille standing tall in front of the market.

The river in Bastille

The river in Bastille

Like many of our experiences, we happened upon this Sunday Market and instantly felt at home. It reminded us so much of the Ballard market or Fremont Fair with local farmers, wineries, and fresh, hot food to eat for lunch. Grab a falafal sandwich, cup of vin chaud (hot, mulled wine) and walk over to the bridge for a little picnic with a gorgeous view.

Fromangerie at the Bastille Farmers Market

Fromangerie at the Bastille Farmers Market

Fresh seafood at the Bastille Sunday Market

Fresh seafood at the Bastille Sunday Market

Fresh flowers at the Bastille Sunday Market

Fresh flowers at the Bastille Sunday Market

Also, be sure to check out the secret railroads-cum-parks above the neighborhood. It’s a great path for a run, romantic stroll, and people watch. It also provides a lovely break from the busy-ness of Parisian life. This became a favorite get-a-way for us while we were in Bastille.

Promenade Plantée

Promenade Plantée

Promenade Plantée-- above the arches are a secret garden path

Promenade Plantée– above the arches are a secret garden path

Promenade Plantée-- above the arches are a secret garden path

Promenade Plantée– a secret garden path

Selfie on the Promenade Plantée

Selfie on the Promenade Plantée

20. The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

This is a breathtaking sight, no matter how gray, rainy, and cloudy it is. Be sure to check out my tips and recommendations for visiting the Eiffel Tower (tip 10) so that you’re not one of the minions stuck for hours in the stair or the lift lines.  We caught the sun, wind, rain, sunset, and the glitz all in a single day….it was breathtaking and freezing but totally worth it. And yes, that is the wind you hear in this video; The glitz, glam and wind, all in it’s finest….Eiffel Tower

Windy afternoon at the Eiffel Tower

Windy afternoon at the Eiffel Tower

Panoramic at the Eiffel Tower

Panoramic at the Eiffel Tower

Sunset on the Seine River, Eiffel Tower

Sunset on the Seine River, Eiffel Tower

Sunset on the Seine River, Eiffel Tower

Sunset on the Seine River, Eiffel Tower

IMG_7565

Best Dutch Oven Ribs

Continuing our food affair with all things French, we have been searching for an amazing fall-of-the-bone-tender meat in a rich stew that is reminiscent of our favorite meal in Paris. Though my first attempt at Coq au Vin was a disaster, Bon Appetit pulled through and by golly, this Braised Rib recipe is to die for. So much so that we’ve made it three times since we’ve been back home.

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs Recipe by Bon Appetit

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs Recipe by Bon Appetit

Did I mention I love my Staub 9 qt dutch oven? 

I would also suggest splurging on great, fresh meat at Whole Foods. We had previously gotten our ribs at a local Fred Meyers, which is around the corner from our home, but turned out to be really fatty compared to the Whole Foods ribs. Though Fred’s is more convenient, we’ll be making the 5 mile trek from now on for better quality and fresher ingredients. Something has to be said for  simple, fresh ingredients that is just pure magic.

Though the recipe seems a bit overwhelming (it is at first), I promise it will get easier and in no time you can pull this together with your eyes closed.

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs: (Bon Appetit) 

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2′ pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 750-ml bottle dry red wine (preferably Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs oregano
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 4 cups low-salt beef stock

    Ribs and Wine. You can't go wrong.

    Ribs and Wine. You can’t go wrong.

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 Tbsp. drippings from pot.
  • Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.
  • Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

I recommend pairing this with fresh rosemary bread or a baguette. Go for a crunchy, chewy crust but soft and fresh in the center.  Our favorite is from a local bakery here in Seattle, Essential Baking Company, who makes the best rosemary bread. Make sure you have more then enough because I can guarantee that you’ll just want to keep dipping and scraping that sauce all night.

Bon Appetit!

 

 

Gluten-Free Chicken Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale

France changed me and hopefully for the better. Though, I can’t speak for my bank account  (or my hips) especially after I bought two Staub dutch ovens post trip so that I could cook the traditional Coq Au Vin. I’ve been eyeing out a few dutch ovens, mostly Le Creuset but at the last minute a good friend and colleague convinced me to check out Staub. And I’m so glad he did because I fell more in love with the clean, polished look of the Staub over the Le Creuset. Thanks Thad!

I also decided to get a second, larger oven since we typically cook and bake in bulk. I’m so glad we did because I use my 9 qt more than the 5.75 qt oven though I equally love them both.  But I nearly didn’t receive my coveted 9 qt Staub. You see, William Sonoma accidentally shipped me this…yeah, I didn’t think that was a 9 qt oven either.

April Fools Day came early this year

April Fools Day came early this year

Thankfully William Sonoma came through and I now have both beauties. So far I’ve used them more than my other pots and am absolutely smitten with them. I still can’t believe it took me so long to get one of these.

Staub Coq Au Vin 5.75 qt.

Staub Coq Au Vin 5.75 qt.

Staub 9 qt.

Staub 9 qt.

I’ve become a foodie-cooking fiend of recent and wanted to share a new favorite that’s become a hit around the house. Also, it’s one I don’t feel guilty eating. Gluten Free Chick Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale. 

Gluten-Free Chicken Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale by Bon Appetit

Gluten-Free Chicken Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale by Bon Appetit

Fair warning, if you’re cooking in bulk (I doubled the recipe), the meatballs take forever. Be patient and do a good job of searing them so they are a bit more crispy…it will payoff in the end. Trust me. 

Ingredients: (5 servings is the original below. I doubled this so I didn’t need to cook for the rest of week)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium shallots, minced, divided
  • 1 scallion, minced (all parts), plus thinly sliced green tops for garnish
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound ground chicken meat
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus more
  • 1 lemon, very thinly sliced and seeds removed
  • 2 cups low salt chicken broth
  • 1 large bunch curly kale, destemmed
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add shallot, scallion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly until softened and fragrant, about 6 minutes.
  • Add 1/3 of ground chicken and cook just until cooked through, breaking up any clumps. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool slightly. Add remaining chicken meat, salt, and several grindings of black pepper. Mix just to combine. Wipe out pot and add remaining Tbsp. oil. Heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Form meat mixture into 8 meatballs each about 2–2 1⁄2-inch in diameter and add to pot (mixture will be soft). Cook until light golden brown on all sides, 6–8 minutes total. Remove meatballs to a plate; set aside.
Gluten-Free Chicken Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale by Bon Appetit

Gluten-Free Chicken Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale by Bon Appetit

  • Add remaining shallot and lemon slices and cook until lemon slices are tender and starting to turn light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and return meatballs to pot.

    Gluten-Free Chicken Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale by Bon Appetit

    Gluten-Free Chicken Meatballs with Braised Lemon and Kale by Bon Appetit

  • Bring to simmer, lower heat and cover. Cook meatballs until cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Add kale to pot, and cook until tender and bright green, 4–5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Divide kale and sauce among 4 shallow bowls, topping with meatballs and lemon slices. Garnish with sliced scallion tops and serve.

I actually made another dish to go with this…Roasted Veggies with Pasta and Parmesan. This is already a popular dish in our house and I thought they would compliment each other nicely. Welp, I was very wrong about that assumption. Do NOT laddle the meatballs and broth over the pasta. The lemon infused broth overpowers the sweetness of the roasted veggies and though it’s not bad, it’s not a combination I would recommend. We’re okay eating off two different plates but i think a fresh baguette with butter is all that is needed with this bright, dish.

What’s your favorite dutch over recipe?

Evolution Fresh: The Juice Cleanse

After our 2 1/2 week vacation in Paris, I’ve been craving all things French food. Croissants, coq au vin, wine, baguettes and cheese. We even make sure  on the weekends we have time to pop by our favorite French Bakery, Bakery Nouveau, for pain au chocolat. But alas after eating out three meals a day for 17 days followed by happy hours, dinners out, birthday celebrations, I was in dire need of a cleanse. Honestly, my body was screaming for it.

Evolution Fresh

Evolution Fresh

I’ve been eyeing out the Evolution Fresh juice packs for a while now, but they were so darn expensive. At $33.50/ pack it was really tough for me to explain to Kyle the need to detox especially when most of my food choices have been my own fault. I blame the lovely international holiday especially if it means I get to eat croissants every. single. day. It was either a new Marc Jacobs purse or  a new juicer for $500. And with that, Kyle relented with the 3 day juice cleanse. Other than me not needing another Marc bag, he pointed out that I might actually hate cleansing so why invest in another appliance? Fair enough. It also helped that Evolution Fresh was having a New Year’s Resolution Sale. Can we say, “perfect timing?”

Many friends have been wondering why I bought the juice instead of using our own juicer. What many don’t realize is that juicers are different and that if you have a centrifugal juicer, which is what we have, you can’t keep your juice out for days. In fact you have to drink it right away. Which makes a 3 days cleanse really really really tough. I mean, I’d love to bring all my fruits, veggies, and Breville into the office but then I again, I might get death stares from my colleagues…or somehow relocated to the 4th floor.  When we researched juicers a few years ago we decided to go with a more affordable model than the $500, masticating juicers, because we weren’t even sure if we were going to like it. We fell head over heels in love with juicing but still refused to drop the dough on a new juicer. For years it has served us well and besides we weren’t juicing for days at a time. There wasn’t a need….until now.

Which leads me back to the juice cleanse. Before we even drop more money another kitchen appliance, I wanted to ensure a few things:

1. I would actually like the juice cleanse. Granted “like” is relative for anyone doing it but you get my point.

2. My body would be open to it and not have a massive allergic reaction or completely break down. And in the words of my co-worker, Thad, “Are you tired yet?”

3. I would want to repeat it. I know…call me “crazy.”

4. That it was “affordable.” Granted $100 for 4 days worth of liquid may seem insane to most, it was actually not as expensive as other 3 day cleanses which were up to $200-$300.

 

Evolution Fresh 4 day juice cleanse

Evolution Fresh 4 day juice cleanse

 

I ended up buying a 3-day cleanse  on the last day of the sale and got a gift card that I could redeem over the next several months. Besides, I was not going to carry 18 bottles of juice home with me on the bus. Daniel and Thad are great friends, but they don’t love me that much.  When I went to redeem my card, I also found they had a sale on some of their juices and another day’s supply was only going to cost me the price of 3 juices. What the heck. And thus the 3 day cleanse became a 4 day cleanse. So what did it entail?

  • Each day I consumed 6 juices, mostly veggie juices
  • A handful of almonds
  • A handful of carrots, bell peppers, celery sticks, and cherry tomatoes with a bit of hummus
  • A lot of water
  • 1 cup of coffee

I really appreciated the Evolution Fresh staff answering all my questions and helping me custom tailor my juice packs to what I wanted to accomplish: a full detox. He also recommended that I add some almonds and a salad since I’m active to ensure I was getting enough calories and nutrients along with my supplements. Bonus points was not only getting to talk to someone in the flesh but also being able to sample some of the flavors I hadn’t tried before.

Honestly, I felt great the entire time. I wasn’t tired but rather had more energy and ability to focus at work. And I could still work out, even getting two workouts on some days; cardio in the morning and Pure Barre in the evenings.

Also, I’m inspired to try new recipes. We typically get into a rut of the same one or two recipes and end up loathing carrots- celery-apples- cilantro after a month. All of the Evolution Fresh combinations are delicious and want to try making them myself! Now, I just need to decide on that Marc Jacobs bag or the Hurom Slow Juicer….

Want to juice but not sure what type of juicer to invest in? Here’s a great comparison William Sonoma did on three different types of juicers. 

Have a favorite juice recipe? Share it here! 

Paris: Part 2, Top 20 Favorites

Missed my Top 10 tips and tricks for surviving Paris? Don’t worry, you can still check out in Part 1, here.

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Trying to cull down our 2 1/2 weeks in Paris into a Top 20 Favorites list is actually quite challenging. So challenging in fact that I’m breaking this Top 20 list into two parts, so check back here for Part 3. You’ll also notice the list is consists a lot of food; but what do you expect when you’re in the food capital of the world?!  Without further adieu and in no particular order….

1. A la Biche au Bois (45 av Ledru-Rollin, 12th arr.)

A la Biche au Bois
A la Biche au Bois

Hands down the best meal we had in Paris. We were fortunate this was a block from our hotel and saved this restaurant for our last meal in the City of Lights. Trust me, this is a must-do visit while you’re in Paris. Located in the Bastille neighborhood, a block from the Gare de Lyon metro station, this is the go-to for locals and tourists alike. But be sure to make reservations in advance or show up at 6 to make a 7pm reservation and you should be fine…because Americans are the only ones who eat this early. The food and service is authentically French and delicious. After making friends, a delicious meal, and five-hours later, we rolled ourselves back to the hotel.

Coq au Vin at  A la Biche au Bois
Coq au Vin at A la Biche au Bois
Palette Cleanser: Traditional Cheese Platter following your main dish but before dessert.
IMG_8151
Best dessert: Roasted Pear, Chocolate, Fresh Whipped Cream

 

2. Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France

This beautiful garden was our first stop when we started our holiday and we frequently came back. It constantly amazed us that Paris had these perfectly manicured parks which were available for free to tourists and locals. There are always chairs for folks to sit, relax, and enjoy the view. Also, surprisingly locals didn’t steal or vandalize the chairs. Did I mention this is all FREE?!?!?

 

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France

 

 

3. Boulangerie Poilane (8 rue du cherche-midi, 6th arr.)

Boulangerie Poilane
Boulangerie Poilane

Featured on Giada de Laurentiis weekend trip to Paris, Boulangerie Poilane was on our must-do while we were in Paris. Word on the street is that this Bakery has the best bread and pastries in all of the city. And you know what they say, if the locals frequent it, it must be good. Luckily for us (not so much for my hips and thighs) this Boulangerie was a mere 5 minute walk from the first place we stayed, around the Saint Germaine neighborhood, which also meant this became my morning ritual…every. single. day.

Pain au Chocolat from Boulangerie Poilane
Pain au Chocolat from Boulangerie Poilane

4. Sacre Coure

Sacre Coure, Monmartre, France

Sacre Coure, Monmartre, France

Though the Notre Dame Cathedral is a must do on everyones visit to Paris, we loved the Sacre Coure so much more. It might seem like a bit of a trek to the Monmarte neighborhood, but the hills and stairs make this more of a pilgrimage than anything. Don’t get me wrong there’s definitely hawkers everywhere but the vibe is so much more peaceful and reflective here. This church sits on the tallest hill overlooking Paris. From these steps you can see breathtaking views of the city and is definitely worth the trip.

Sacre Coure, Monmartre, France
Sacre Coure, Monmartre, France

While you’re here, grab lunch at the kiosks/markets out front of the Sacre Coure church and sit the little park just beneath the market road on the right (when facing the city) for a beautiful view and a delicious meal.

5. Hotel de Sully

One of the things we appreciated so much about Paris were these little unknown surprises that only locals knew about. We happened to break for a cafe and wine mid-afternoon and ended up befriending a local Parisian who happened to be an English teacher. Seriously, talk about a blessing in disguise. She shared that a block down from the cafe was a local secret, Hotel de Sully. It was neither a hotel nor lodging accommodations, but rather an historical landmark…

Hotel de Sully

Hotel de Sully

…which led to a courtyard…

Hotel de Sully Courtyard

Hotel de Sully Courtyard

…which then led to a gorgeous secret garden…

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

…which finally emptied out into massive park/courtyard on the block behind the front street Hotel Sully faced.

Beautiful Park behind Hotel de Sully

Beautiful Park behind Hotel de Sully

 

6. Sens’O

I love me bolognese and though we weren’t in Italy, this was an Italian restaurant that could do no wrong. It’s not on the island that the Notre Dame Cathedral is on but smaller island, ile saint-louis. All there food is locally sourced, in season and amazing.

Bolognese at Sens'O

Bolognese at Sens’O

Fresh, homemade pizza at Sens'O

Fresh, homemade pizza at Sens’O

 

7. Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

There’s something to be said for those who have given us their lives, regardless of the country, the people….and this is a beautiful tribute with spectacular views.

Champs-Elysées at night

Champs-Elysées at night

We ended up deciding to visit this monument at the last minute and am so glad we did. It was beautiful, cold, and breath-taking.

Eternal Flame at Arc de Triomphe

Eternal Flame at Arc de Triomphe

 

8. Le Petit Vendome (8 Rue des Capucines)

Le Petit Vendome

Le Petit Vendome

Voted by locals, this is the best place for sandwiches in Paris. Simplicity and freshness are the key ingredients to making this an amazing sandwich. And it doesn’t matter the sandwich because everything here is amazing.  The best way to end nine hours of non-stop walking and sight-seeing is with this amazing sandwich and a delicious glass of wine.  Bon Appetite!

Le Petit Vendome

Le Petit Vendome

 

9. Saint Chapelle Chapel

A few streets over from the Notre Dame Cathedral is Saint Chapelle Chapel. It was originally built to house Christ’s crown of thorns and is currently under renovation efforts. The crown of thorns are housed and brought out on special ocassions at Notre Dame. Regardless, this was by far one of our favorite churches.

Key Note: After standing in lines you enter the main church and are immediately at a loss….many try to mask their disappointment but it’s hard not to see the confusion on many people’s face, ours included. I had to pee, was starving and freezing cold, walked into this the main doors and saw this…..

Saint Chapelle Cathedral, first floor

Sainte Chapelle Cathedral, first floor

I’ll be honest, it was not my finest ‘wife’ moment. I was upset, cold, and disappointed that there was a lot of hype for this.  It also shows you how spoiled (and snobby) we had become amongst the mast amounts of art, history, and architecture…this was disappointing. We turned to leave; one foot out the door, one foot in the door; and noticed a set of stairs to the right leading upwards. We decided to head up and am so glad we did. Because the above turned out not to be the grand, picturesque, breathtaking cathedral this place was known for….it was this….

Sainte Chapelle Cathedral

Sainte Chapelle Cathedral

IMG_6309

Sainte Chapelle Cathedral

So what’s the lesson we learned here kids? Always go up the stairs…..and pee before you stand in line.

 

10. Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

This is a no brainer. The palace, the expansive gardens, the fountains. It’s amazing and overwhelming in the same way the Louvre is except you have fresh air…and dirt. We came here twice because in Ostlie fashion we were not as prepared as we should have been. We don’t read that many (I don’t read anything before I leave) guide books, rely on our instincts, and chattiness with locals when we land. Well, this was the one time we learned our lesson and regretted our “let’s live by the seat of our pants” attitude. We slept in, missed the RER C bus by 2 mins and had to wait another 30 mins and finally boarded a bus at 11am. We got into Versailles at 12pm and spent 30 minutes trying to figure out where to find a restroom. Starbucks and McDonalds are your only options with the former requiring an access code that is only provided to customers (so there Rick Steves…it’s not free!!!) and the latter being ridiculously long….like over an hour wait. I have no idea how I held it but I did…for another hour. Needless to say we realized in the heat of ‘we need to get out of our hotel room now!’ we left our Museum Passes AKA tickets to get into the Palace on the desk back in the city. It required us to stand in line only to find out that it was a 3 hour wait and the Palace closed at 5pm. The lady was gracious to tell us that since we had so much time to come back on Thurs at 9am sharp and the wait wouldn’t be that long. So we came back, coffee in hand to brave the lines….and here’s some of our faves from the Palace and the garden…

Versailles at Sunrise

Versailles at Sunrise

Versailles at Sunrise....despite being here at 9:15am the Chinese Tour buses beat us and we still had an hour wait.

Versailles at Sunrise….despite being here at 9:15am the Chinese Tour buses beat us and we still had an hour wait.

Room of Mirrors, Versailles

Room of Mirrors, Versailles

When exiting the palace to enter the gardens, you will want to head left and avoid the natural flow of tourists walking down the main set of stairs...beautiful as it is, you'll miss this beauty. Come here for a break form the noise, chatter, and bodies for a bit of peace and reflection. This was our favorite part of the entire Palace and Garden combined.

When exiting the palace to enter the gardens, you will want to head left and avoid the natural flow of tourists walking down the main set of stairs…beautiful as it is, you’ll miss this beauty. Come here for a break form the noise, chatter, and bodies for a bit of peace and reflection. This was our favorite part of the entire Palace and Garden combined.

 

Have recommendations, suggestions, comments? What did I miss? I want to know!

Be sure to check back for Part 3 where I list off 10 more of our Top Favorites on our recent trip to Paris!

 

Top 10 Tips and Tricks for surviving Paris

It was a last minute decision to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Paris and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. Though I still can’t figure out how we got out of the holidays with my in-laws or my family, but I digress. After giving up a planned vacation for a new job it had been 18 months since a proper vacation, and needless to say we were both thrilled to be on a plane to the City of Lights for nearly 2 1/2 weeks.

New Year's Eve at the Eiffel Tower

Since we’ve been back stateside we’ve been asked numerous time “What was your favorite part?” or “What would you recommend?” and honestly it’s really difficult to answer. Most in part because there were sooooo  many favorites and so many recommendations.  Since I’ve had some time to mull answers over, I’ve decided to do a 2 part blog-series on our faves and the recommendations. In this post, I’ll share our  top 10 tips and tricks to navigate through Paris during the winter.

1.  First and foremost, Kyle and I fell in love with experiencing another culture’s holiday season and would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone.

Christmas in Paris

There’s less tourists, the locals are out, and the people are in high spirits. Paris is definitely one of the cities you must experience and explore during the holidays. From the Christmas markets to the hot-mulled wine to the lights hung around every street corner, it was amazing on so many levels and unfortunately this photo doesn’t do it justice.

2. Speaking of hot, spiced, mulled wine. Make sure you get a cup or two or three of “vin chaud” to keep warm during the cold, windy, wet (and possibly snowy) winter season. It will keep you warm long after you’ve drained the last drop.

Vin Chaud: hot, spiced, mulled wine.

We fell in love with this beverage, so much so that we made sure to have a cup everyday. It was that good.  Also, avoid asking the proper wine folks about this as this is considered ‘beneath’ them. We were even told on one occasion that it wasn’t ‘popular’ only to find out 25 feet away were two carnival-like kiosks selling them.  Keep an eye out for sandwich, kabab, and sweets (churros, donuts, etc) kiosks….they have the best vin chaud. The cafe versions are twice as much and don’t taste nearly as good.

3. Trust me. Get a Museum Pass.

Photo Credit: http://en.parismuseumpass.com/

It’s 42 Euro/Person for the two-day pass and is totally worth it especially if you’re only in town for a few days. But be sure that it gets you into the Musee (museums) you want to go since it doesn’t work for Eiffel Tower. Also, these must be used in consecutive days, so plan your Musee routes in advance to get the most out of it.  Finally, all Musee (museums) have two lines; security and entry. Typically security is the longest and the Museum pass lets you bypass the second line (entry) so don’t get frustrated when you’re standing in the first line with the ‘non-museum pass’ folks.

4. If you’re in need for some tchotchkes (keychains, magnets, old books, old magazines) to give to your friends, co-workers, and family be sure to buy it from the locals instead of the hawkers. The latter stalk tourists in front of the Louvre, Versailles, and all the major tourist sites. The locals are located on the Seine River by the Notre Dame Cathedral.  These sellers only have green boxes to sell from and have to fit all their belongings in 4 crates. We learned that by law there are only 250 sellers allowed per year and the average wait list time is eight years. Which basically means that someone needs to pass-away. It may be the PNW in me but there’s something to be said for supporting the locals.

5. As shared in a previous travel post, eating out can get expensive even if it’s for the simplest things like water, fruit and coffee. MonoPrix is a local grocery store chain (more like Fred Meyers with clothes and toiletries) we visited at least every two days to grab bottled water and snacks that’s significantly cheaper than the museum, cafe, or restaurant food. A smaller, more express store associated to the Monoprix is the Monop…..less selection but still you can grab the essentials.

Monoprix

They  saved us when Delta lost our luggage and we needed beanies and umbrellas. Also, both the main and express stores take credit cards with no spending minimum which is a huge life saver esp if you just want a bottle of water or a coke.  Besides, this is where the locals shop and it’s always exciting to see the variations of products available in different countries.

6.  You’ll inevitably use the metro lines while you’re in Paris. Make sure you purchase the carne in packs (10 tickets for 13.30) at any metro station, as it’s significantly cheaper than buying individual tickets.

Paris Metro Stations

Be sure to download these two apps and you can thank me later.  “Paris Metro” app and  ”Google Maps” for Paris. Download the latter to access without wifi connection in advance. You can zoom in and identify where you’re at (using your phone’s GPS) along with the nearest metro stations. Once you have this, figure out where you want to go and open up the Paris Metro app. Click on the “route” tab and enter were you are and where you want to go. It will automatically offer you the metro links you need to take. This app  saved our lives.  Note: The #1 line (Yellow) is the main line to all the main tourist attractions. 

And for goodness-sake don’t even consider renting a car unless you want to die.

7. The RER lines are separate than the Metros and depending on the line, and where you want to go, can only be accessed through certain Metros stations.  Use the “Paris Metro” app that I noted above to help you. For example, if you want to catch a train to CDG airport, you need to head to the Chatalet metro stop to get to RER B.

Paris Metro App

Also, the RER runs every 15-30mins and they are more confusing to figure out what platforms you need to be on, so plan more time for these, especially if you go to Versailles or to the airport. If you’re staying in the city, your carnet ticket can get you on the RER and the metro (for example if you’re going to see the Moulin Rouge in the Monmarte arrondissement (neighborhood) you don’t need a separate carne. But if you’re going to and from outside the city like Versaille, you’ll need to buy different tickets at the metro counters that cost a bit more.  IE) Versaille RT is 13.30.

8. Parisians get a bad rap for their stiff-arm, cold shoulder attitude. But, honestly that’s instigated from the tourists. Going up to a Parisian and speaking English isn’t going to win you points just like a Chinese person coming up to you in Seattle speaking Madarin won’t get them very far either. For the most part, Parisians are polite and you don’t need to be purchasing a new Louis Vuitton purse to be on the receiving end of this. From cafes to boutiques to bakeries Parisians will always say “Bonjur” and you respond accordingly. After 7pm “Bonjur” is now “Bonsoir.”

Get into the habit of saying “Parlez-vouz anlais?” (Do you speak English) or “Je ne parle pas francais” (I don’t speak French). It will be a headache saver. The “Speak Easy French” app is awesome to learn how to pronounce the phrases correctly. The only bummer is that you can’t access the app without wifi.

9.  Create a routine . Get into a habit of popping into your local, corner cafe for a cafe au lait (cafe latte) or cafe (espresso) on a daily basis for your morning java fix and then head around the block to your boulangerie (bakery) for a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant).

Morning cafe au lait

If you can, grab a sandwich to for an afternoon picnic while you’re grabbing your croissant.  Regardless of how long you’re in Paris, these establishments and their staff will recognize you and give you better service. You’ll become a local in no-time!

Impromptu picnic with a veiw

This also means you should try to spend as much time in Paris if you can. We recommend a week or more. With so many museums, cafes, gardens, etc to experience, anything less is crazy!

10. The Eiffel Tower is a must and you can’t experience it from the ground. Reserve your tickets at least one to two months in advance through their website.  If for some reason you forget about this, you can can either stand in line for three to four hours (I’m not kidding) or you can pay double the price and go through a reputable third party vendor (what we did) to get in as a group. We recommend Fat Tire Bike Tours. They were great, prompt, and easy to use. The only downside was the price and there was a massive windstorm on the day we were scheduled to go up the Tower that the Summit was closed.  So be sure to book in advance and save your euros for a lovely, authentic dinner.

Have you visited the City of Lights? Post your tips, tricks, and advice below and be sure to check back for Part 2: Our Favorites.

Five-Year Anniversary: Wooden Cutlery

When celebrating one’s five-year anniversary, tradition says that gifts should be paper or wood. “Wood represents strength solidity and warmth- are the traditional material on the fifth anniversary.” A modern gift is cutlery. Does wooden cutlery count? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

This past August 16th, we celebrated our five-year anniversary. I still can’t believe it’s been five years. It feels like yesterday when we were toasting the bubbly, smashing cupcakes in each other’s faces (I believe I started it), I was in the most expensive dress I ever owned (still own, and still the most expensive), and it was the one of the happiest (and most expensive) days of our lives.

My favorite photo from our wedding day.

Due to some major life changes…ahem….me starting a new job at an awesome company, I had to start earlier than planned and gave up my month of vacation that we originally looking forward to. I say that like it’s a bad thing but really it’s not.  I actually started with three weeks paid vacation and there’s no accrual. I can’t believe I just typed that. I’m not gloating, bragging; okay maybe I am, in the tinniest sense. But, after working for my old company for nearly eight years just to get three weeks of vacation, this feels like a gift from God.

I digress. Gone is a month filled with backpacking, road-tripping, camping on the beach, and possibly being eaten by a bear.  I’m now working (and loving it) at a fab company and Kyle’s on summer break. We decided to head out of town on a four day holiday to a four star campsite  (that’s like a five start hotel) for some down time to celebrate.

But this isn’t a post about ratings, stars and screaming children– I’ll save that for another day. It’s a post to celebrate the 5 glorious years we’ve called our own. While hiking up to Rachel Lake (my new favorite hike and lake), I decided to start a “Top Five” list of sorts. This was partially self motivated because Kyle had shoved a can of bear spray in his day pack and knowing I had no idea where we were going, it was safe to assume we were taking a jaunt into  ’bear country’ and thus I decided we needed to talk the entire time to keep away The Bears.

The Top Five Lists

 

Though we did have a lot of similarities, we had more fun re-living the last five years with ‘remember that one time…’ than we did actually putting them into these lists.  Regardless of these lists, I know what you’re really thinking about….

No, I did not get Kyle wooden cutlery but I did think about it.  Instead, I got him a rad, new, minimalistic wallet for his ‘green paper.’ He’s been eyeing out these wallets from Bellroy which I do have to say, make some amazing, quality leather goods. I fully endorse this small company especially since their wallets arrive beautifully wrapped so you don’t have to do it!

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 9.52.44 PM

Kyle in typically fashion out did me. He spoke to the wood-sey girl in me with gaiters and the girly-girl in me with a gorgeous Kate Spade necklace. I see these gaiters lending me to my passion for the outdoors… in the woods. And my necklace is green, which is the same color as the trees! DUH. See, we totally have it together.

Photo Credit: www.rei.com

 

The 5-year bling

 

But, honestly I’m really not that high maintenance as these gifts makes me out to be.  Proof? Rainier and Freezer-Dried Beef Stroganoff for our 5-year anniversary dinner. Does it help that I picked it out?

The celebratory grub

Saving is more than investing, it’s about Word of Mouth

In the last month, guest bloggers from around the world share their good, bad, or ugly customer service experiences. It’s been a place to complain, rant, and highlight opportunities for companies to improve. But, this series has also been a place to celebrate when companies do well, processes work effectively, service representatives are our advocates, and we leave a situation as stronger believers in the product or service than we started.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories as  much as I have! 

The lovely Kristina!

The lovely Kristina!

Today’s blog post comes from the land down under. Kristina and her husband Jeff moved to Australia several years ago and are one of the reasons for our travel adventure inspiration.  There’s a lot reasons why she’s a fave but her passion for reading and love for her kindle are a few top reasons…oh and she’s one of the sweetest people I know! 

First a bit of backstory about me. I am a loyal bank goer since before I can remember.

I was set up with a kids saving account at Bank of America for my college fund. Years later when my dad started to work at Boeing and became part of Boeing Employees Credit Union, I too started an account with them (my Bank of America savings account still in tow) for checking, saving and car loan.

After finishing college my BofA account was no longer needed as the funds were depleted but in turn I got one of their Alaska air miles Credit Cards so I could put all of our wedding expenses on there and get miles.

I never thought I would leave BofA or BECU as they have always been great to me and very helpful. But then the Big Move happened. We were moving overseas and both companies did not have branches overseas. Then started my search for a new company. I knew we would open accounts down here in Australia but I was loyal and wanted to stay with my companies.

After much talk, I continued our stay with BECU as they continued to allow us to keep our account even though there wouldn’t be much activity and we will still get/receive all our loyalty rewards. BECU was so helpful and accommodating I knew that we had made the right choice to stay with them. But when it came to our credit card with BofA we weren’t so lucky. So we started shopping around for a new credit card. I wanted a card that I could get miles for (as we would be travelling even more now), didn’t have a huge yearly fee and would work with us that we were living overseas for the time being. I fell upon Capital One. Now at first I wasn’t too sure about this company as all I could remember or think of for this company was their Viking commercials which concerned me a bit. But after so much needed research I decided to go with them as their fee was less than what I was paying with BofA, their air miles went to any airline (I wasn’t just locked into one airline), they were so accommodating of us being overseas, they have no international transaction fees (so even when we travel we can use the card and not get charged extra fees) and how cool is it that I could put whatever picture I wanted on there:

Photo Credit: Kristina Gutherie

Photo Credit: Kristina Gutherie

Ok that was a lot of rambling but I wanted to give you some back story before I shared my great customer service story.

As I said before Capital One has been excellent about us being overseas. They have always been helpful when it comes to weird charges and such and always willing to have me call collect or even call me back so I don’t have to pay the international calling fees (I just use Skype though so there is no worries there but it’s nice to know that service is available).

I always pay my bill on time (even early in most cases). But this month our internet went down for about a week (now you don’t really understand how much you use/need internet until your internet has went down but in any case it was done) and it was right during the time when our bill was due. So when our internet came back up I got on to do all of our banking and realized I had missed our due date (this has never happened but alas it did). I was getting ready to just suck it up and pay the fee as I knew it was our fault for being late.

I was talking to my husband and he said ‘just give them a call and let them know the situation and see if there is anything they can do.’ I highly doubted that they would do anything, as most places would say that we need to pay on time and not make excuses. So I called them, still thinking that I would have to pay the fee but wanted to ask anyways. Expecting to be on hold for awhile, I was shocked when someone answered the phone within a minute (points in my book) and it was a real person not a computer (another point). I then explained to her (I have forgotten her name unfortunately, as she was awesome) the situation: our internet was down and I missed paying our bill on time but was there anything they could do. First off, she was so understanding about having our internet go down and seemed genuinely empathic. She then said she could look into for me if I could give her a few details. I did and within seconds she was telling me that she would gladly reverse the charge and I should see it in one to two days on my statement. I was off the phone with the situation resolved in less than 10 minutes, that’s unheard of! She was so helpful and understanding it made me realize another reason why I am so thankful I changed to them.

I have recommended Capital One to so many people over the last three years and I will continue to share their amazing company with as many people as I can. I can’t say enough good things about a company that is so understanding, helpful , accommodating, and downright a joy to work with.

Thanks for following this month’s customer service blog series. I hope you’ve enjoyed these bloggers stories, experiences, and hopes as much as I have. Has there been a particular story that has resonated with you? Would you respond differently if you were in their shoes?  The one consistency I see in all these experiences, regardless of the #goodbadugly, is the customer’s initiative to respond and take action.  By doing so, you’re paving the way for companies to reinforce positive behavior or identify areas to improve.

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There’s no exchange of moolah behind these blog pages, pro-deals, or freebies with this series. What you see is what you get; real stories from real people who are sharing their experiences to challenge the status quo, inspire companies to take action, and ultimately build a life long customer. Be sure to check back this week!

July 30: Sometimes $20 makes all the difference by Meeka Kullberg

July 28: Changing the world one white mocha at a time by Stacy Wong

July 18: A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sandra Boedecker

July 15: I have renamed my WiFi network “TimeWarnerisHorrible” by Chris Miller

July 13: Our love affair with the world’s most hated airline by Kayla Robertson

July 12: Treat others how you would want to be treated. by Kristin

July 10: Where’s the Line? by Kristin McGunnigle

July 8: Do customers dream of electric sheep? by Stephen Ellis

July 5: Nike earns an A+ by Jackie Ostlie

July 3: How to Please the Queen by Katrina Taylor

July 1: Are you kidding me? by Evelyn Wolf

Sometimes $20 makes all the difference

In the last month, guest bloggers from around the world share their good, bad, or ugly customer service experiences. It’s been a place to complain, rant, and highlight opportunities for companies to improve. But, this series has also been a place to celebrate when companies do well, processes work effectively, service representatives are our advocates, and we leave a situation as stronger believers in the product or service than we started.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories as  much as I have! 
My bestie and "third" sister.

My bestie and “third” sister.

Today’s post comes from Oregon and my best friend Meeka. She’s one of the funniest writers I know and I can always depend on her for her honesty, humor, support, and transparency. Meeka’s the mother of two beautiful boys and shares her adventures, mishaps, and daily life on her blog, Surprised by Joy

 

I’m not a big bargain hunter. As a mom of two little boys, I find a lot of my time {and money} dedicated to them, versus shopping for the best deal. And I’ll admit, sometimes, I see a small mistake on the receipt or a missed deal and I just let it go, because though it might cost me a couple dollars, seriously, the time spent explaining, haggling and waiting for the fix, while also wrangling my kids? Depending on the day, that might just cost me my sanity.

I should probably just build that into my budget.

This is why company customer service attributes that impress me as a consumer usually have to do with response time and accessibility.

Customer service line waits longer than five minutes? Or I can’t call you? There’s no email? No online chat? No response to the online chat? Done, man. I probably won’t be back. Because there are just too many companies that are ready and available.

And even if I do have to pay a few dollars more, well, as mentioned above, a few dollars is nothing compared to the fact that my kids just disassembled my washing machine while I was sitting on hold.

Which is why a recent interaction with home furnishings giant Williams-Sonoma hooked me as a loyal return customer, and it only cost them $20.

My in-laws had gifted me a generous $150 gift card to Williams-Sonoma and after looking around a bit, I’d decided to use some of it on a Cuisinart Griddler. It was already on sale for $70 when I ordered it. After I clicked purchase, I sort of forgot about it. That is, until I got an email three days later that they were now having a “20 percent off electrics” sale. Of course they were. And on the day my now overpriced griddler was set to arrive.

Photo Credi: William Sonoma

Photo Credi: William Sonoma

I opened the box and it was great {a panini maker and a griddle all in one!}, but the situation kept gnawing at me, I mean, seriously, if I’d only waited, I would have had $20 extra dollars to spend! So I decided to give them a call. I mean, it never hurts to ask, right?

While looking for the customer service number, I found a handy internet chat icon. Have you ever used those? I’ve had minimal success with them. The lag time {if they answer} can be really atrocious and in general, I find people are nicer on the phone than on the internet {as we all know from reading YouTube comments}.

But I thought I’d give it a try, and imagine my surprise, when right away, a nice customer service representative named “Justin” popped up. I explained my issue and after a few moments, he came back on and explained that though they do price adjustments for a

certain period of time after purchase, they do not honor email code promotions after the fact.

I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised. But I was disappointed. And a little annoyed.

Williams-Sonoma is high end and it’s not like their prices are the best around. In fact, if I didn’t have the gift card, I probably wouldn’t even have been on their site in the first place. However, that’s when Justin’s chat box popped up with the second half of his response. He went on to say that although they don’t usually honor email code promotions, for this time only, they were willing to and would be sending me a gift card in the mail for the refunded $20.

Well, let me tell you, that totally made my day. Williams-Sonoma is a billion dollar company, but the fact that they enable their employees to be generous with consumers over such a small amount, absolutely won my heart.

As my husband said, “Of course they did, what can you buy at Williams-Sonoma for 20 dollars? They just garnered themselves another way to get you to spend more money there.” And yes, he’s absolutely right. But I will happily be back and I’ll tell all my friends, because even though they are a large and often expensive store, they still treat their customers with respect.

And I have the $20 to show for it.

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There’s no exchange of moolah behind these blog pages, pro-deals, or freebies with this series. What you see is what you get; real stories from real people who are sharing their experiences to challenge the status quo, inspire companies to take action, and ultimately build a life long customer. Be sure to check back this week!

July 28: Changing the world one white mocha at a time by Stacy Wong

July 18: A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sandra Boedecker

July 15: I have renamed my WiFi network “TimeWarnerisHorrible” by Chris Miller

July 13: Our love affair with the world’s most hated airline by Kayla Robertson

July 12: Treat others how you would want to be treated. by Kristin

July 10: Where’s the Line? by Kristin McGunnigle

July 8: Do customers dream of electric sheep? by Stephen Ellis

July 5: Nike earns an A+ by Jackie Ostlie

July 3: How to Please the Queen by Katrina Taylor

July 1: Are you kidding me? by Evelyn Wolf