Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Vacation with SURPRISE Destination! (Pack Up + Go Review)

***If you sign up for Pack Up + Go, please mention my name Ashley Newell in the referral or how did you hear about us section so that I can earn a discount off my next trip, thank you!***

For my most recent birthday, I asked my hubby for a short trip for a gift instead of item/s.  We have SO much stuff in our house.  Plus, I turned 34 and I can list the states I've actually visited and was old enough to remember on ONE HAND.  Boo!  My hubby said that a trip would be fine.  My birthday passed.  In fact, 3 months passed without a peep about this trip.  Not so much of an idea of where we might go.  I brought up the trip and hubby said "I can plan a Vegas trip if you want."  No, I did not want!  I've been to Vegas at least 5 times.  I don't want to spend my whole life only going to Vegas and never going anywhere else.  I don't know if I'm having some sort of 1/3 life crisis (is this a thing?), but I just feel like I haven't experienced enough.

One day, my friend Joann posted an article from a travel website about a travel agency called Pack Up + Go that planned a whole trip for you but they didn't tell you where you were going.  I forwarded the link to hubby who said "ok, book it!"  I sat there in shock for a bit.  Could I really let go of my insane control issues and let someone plan a whole trip for me??

I contacted Pack Up + Go and asked if they have a blogger program.  They told me that they didn't have any kind of program but they liked my blog and offered me a 10% off coupon if I wanted to try out their service and give them a bit of coverage.  SOLD!  (While I accepted the coupon, all my opinions are ALWAYS my own and I would not encourage people to try something I did not truly believe in.)  Honestly, I would have booked any way but I've been to places that offered blogger programs I never thought to apply for so I figured I would just check.  I contacted Pack Up + Go on Mar 29, booked on April 5, and left on our trip on April 21!  (April 16 is our anniversary but that was also Easter so we went on the trip the week after.)

I'm not going to lie, I had butterflies in my stomach the whole time I was booking the trip.  You fill out a survey telling Pack Up + Go your interests, the places you've been in the last year, the places you will go to in the next year, whether you want to stay at a hotel or B&B, ect... They won't send you to a place you've recently gone to or will go to soon.  You could also tell them if you are celebrating an occasion.

One week before our departure date on Friday April 14, we got an email from Pack Up + Go letting us know the weather forecast for the entire trip and a few hints/packing tips.  Based on these things, I had a pretty good guess as to where I was going but I didn't know for sure.  Then, on Monday April 17 we got an envelope with all our info inside.  THIS is the point where I started going CRAZY!  I really, really wanted to open it.  In fact, we did accidentally open it because we didn't read the email well enough but we closed it back up with tape after figuring out we shouldn't have opened it since it said "No Peeking" inside.

For the next 4 days, the envelope taunted me and kept asking to be open.  And my raging control issues went into overdrive.  I kept thinking, if I knew where we were going I could plan things or ask for suggestions from my friends.  If I knew the places on the itinerary I could look them up on Yelp and see if they were good and what I should order.  In the midst of it, I was watching The Voice one night and one of my favorites from this season Hunter Plake said something to the effect of "if you want to grow, you have to do things that are uncomfortable for you."  Totally paraphrasing.  This really struck me and helped me to wait to open the envelope.  Plus, what's the point of a surprise vacation if you KNOW where you are going?

The email told us to be at the airport by 8:30am on Friday morning.  My sweet friend Linda took us to the airport as an anniversary gift.  Since I get a little carsick, we opted to open our envelope at the airport standing outside instead of in the car.  (I'm SUPER SAD that I lost the video of us opening the envelope.  I put it on my Instagram stories and forgot to save it within 24 hours so it's gone forever.)  Here's the picture:

I KNEW IT!!!!  Even though my friend Dolores tried to trick me into thinking I was going somewhere else.

We flew on Delta Airlines in regular seating, no checked bags.  I really appreciated that Pack Up + Go planned for us to be in Seattle by lunchtime on Friday so we could have most of the day there.  Also, we are not great at waking up super early so the 10am flight was perfect!  Our return flight was at 8:50pm on Sunday so we got to spend most of Sunday enjoying Seattle as well.  I love how they thoughtfully planned out the time to give me the most amount of time in Seattle!  Also, thank you for getting me the most Instagramable seat on the plane!  :D

The Alexis Hotel Seattle in Downtown Seattle.  I have never stayed in a "boutique hotel" before and MAN, I've been missing out.  We usually stay at a Hilton or a Marriot.  This blew all of those places out of the water.  We got a King Deluxe Room.  We walked into a little foyer and the bathroom was to the right with a bathtub that had jets in it!  We walked into the main room and there was a gorgeous bed, a couch, a desk with a chair, a large tv, a large wardrobe, and we even had a little balcony!  The room was so spacious!  All the rooms have the Amazon Echo Dot which we had fun with asking for weather and recommendations of things to do.  The staff was all SO nice!  They read on our file that we were celebrating our anniversary late and they left us the sweetest gift!

This was our anniversary gift from the hotel!  

Hotel Extras:
The hotel also has minibars in every room featuring Seattle beer and local chocolates.  They have two gyms, one for cardio and one for functional fitness (whatever that means.)  They have free wi-fi which I appreciated a lot!  They are a pet friendly hotel and have water and food for dogs in the lobby.  They had free tea and brewed coffee in the morning 6am-10am.  They have a free wine reception from 5pm-6pm each evening and they even have a little appetizer from the hotel restaurant which is very fancy.  They have free bicycle rentals if you want to go explore on a bike.  You can also order room service from their restaurant which is right off the lobby.  They also have a spa on the bottom floor and you can order in room spa treatments too.

We only partook in the wine reception and the free wi-fi so I can't speak to the rest of it.  They had white and red wine, sparkling water, sparkling juice, etc... and they had an appetizer.  We only made it back in time one night but the curry chicken on a cucumber slice was DELICIOUS!  Also, they put out postcards that you can watercolor as an activity during the wine reception and I made a few.

Itinerary and Extras:
Pack Up + Go gave us a great itinerary of things to do, places to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, places to visit, cool things that Seattle has to offer, etc...  The itinerary was split up by neighborhood which was so nice!  Then you know what all to do in each area before moving on to the next.  They were also really tailored to my likes.  I don't think there was a thing on the list that I thought "no, I'd never do that."

Pack Up + Go also gave us a $100 gift card to Uber to use during our stay plus a coupon code to Lyft!  We didn't pay for any car travel while we were in Seattle which was great!  We did do a lot of walking though.  They also provided us with maps, information on public transit, travel guides, a Visit Seattle Magazine, postcards, fun facts, etc...

Overall, I'm thrilled with my Pack Up + Go trip!  It was a wonderful experience and a great way for me to just let go and push myself into growing as a person.  I had a great time exploring a new city that I'd never been to in a state I've never been in.  I highly recommend doing this at least once in your life.  Just GO and BE there and enjoy what someone else has worked hard to plan.

If you decide to book with Pack Up + Go please use my name as your referral so that I might be able to earn a discount off my next trip.  Thank you for any support you give my lil blog!

This is Part 1 of my Seattle trip!  I will be back with Part 2: What We Did in Seattle and then Part 3: What We ATE in Seattle!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Unicorn Frappuchino Quest

It all started last week... my friend Danielle tagged my friend Jordyn in a post where Cosmo magazine was saying there were rumors of a Unicorn Frappuchino.  You guys know how I feel about unicorns, right?  Because one of these days, I'm determined to turn into one.  I had a Unicorn birthday party, which I should probably blog...oopps!

Back to the frap at hand, I scoured the internet for rumors.  I read that the packaging said "do not open until April 17."  I decided that rumors were for the birds and drove to the Starbucks by my house where they not only know my name and order, they recognize my minivan and my voice on the speaker of the drive thru.  They confirmed that the Unicorn Frappuchino would be released on April 19.  I asked when I could get one and got a few knowing nods...

Fast forward to yesterday (April 18), I woke up sick and in despair because I'm going on a trip this weekend and I don't have time to be sick.  I had to cancel my dentist appointment and they couldn't reschedule me for over a month, Avery somehow found a zombie video to watch while I was on the phone, I had to cancel a bunch of small appointments I had to pick things up and I was just OVER TUESDAY.  I opened Instagram.  Another local food person posted the Unicorn Frappuchino in my town.  She got it on the opposite side of town from me.  I'm saddened that I didn't get to be the first person in my town to post it.  (Listen, I don't understand my own logic but I was sad and I'm allowed to feel my feelings.)  I ran over to my Starbucks and ask to order the drink.  THEY TOLD ME NO!  What the actual heck??  Apparently they have a new manager who would be really strict on this.  BOO!!!  Then I went home and whined on Facebook about how the mean Starbucks wouldn't like me get the drink a day early.

I finally got one today, like some sort of commoner...  LOL!  I'm kidding, mostly.  I took Avery and we went to get the Unicorn Frappuchino.  I dressed her for the occasion.  We ordered the Frappuchino.  I carried her across the parking so we could take a photo with great lighting and foliage and then we went back inside to try it.

My review:
It's fine.  It's a Mango Creme Frappuchino (which I've never had before) with blue sour syrup and sprinkles.  The blue stuff tastes like the Squeezepop Liquid Lollipops we had when I was a kid.  I don't remember if those were actually sour but the consistency is the same.  Avery loved the drink, she thought it was so fun!  The sourness didn't bother her at all.  I could see A LOT of kids really liking this drink and probably even my husband because he likes things like sour Icees/Slurpees.  I could take it or leave it.  It is pretty good but it tastes like drinking candy.  I'm an adult (or something) and drinking candy is no longer one of my life goals.  I think the Mango Creme Frappuchino by itself would be a great addition to a summer drink line at Starbucks, the flavor is nice.

Overall, it was fun to get the drink and to be excited for it even if I had a slightly dramatic moment.  And I love unicorns so I HAD to.  I would do it all over again just for the pictures.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

To Do in Sac: Rivercity Market Place

Hi there!  I think I'm going to start a new series called "To Do in Sac" about things to do.  What do you guys think?  I always struggle with knowing what to do.  We usually do the same old stuff like go to the movies, go out to eat, or the park by our house.  I figured I'll go explore some of what the Sacramento area has to offer and report back.

Photo from River City Marketplace Facebook Page

First up is River City Marketplace, which is like a giant craft fair taken up a notch.  The vendors at River City Marketplace are all local artisans, builders, crafters who have high quality items and unique ideas.  It's basically like you're walking around Etsy in real life.  All the products I saw looked really professional like you would find in a high end boutique.  This is NOT like the craft fair at church where people are decorating candy canes and selling them for a dollar, though I LOVE those events too!  The admission is free but we did have to pay for metered street parking.

The event I went to was in Fremont Park in Downtown Sacramento.  This park has an awesome fenced in playground for the kids so that was amazing!  They also had giant versions of board games and there was a complimentary craft table put on by The Greenhouse by Ana Apple which my kids LOVED!  They also loved getting Italian Ice from What's Happening Italian Ice which is based out of Elk Grove.  The vibe of the whole event is perfect for kids!  They also have some vendors that sell things for kids like clothes, hair accessories, and other fun knick knacks.

I really enjoyed looking at the beautiful jewelry, bath items, and women's clothes!  It was amazing to see how many cool LOCAL vendors are in my area!  There were even two boutique trucks there like food trucks except you could go into the truck and shop!  I loved that RCMP gave me the opportunity to see them all in one place!  There was also some yummy food but you have to get to these guys quick because stuff starts selling out.  They had the Its Nacho Truck, Purple Pig Eats bbq, Conscious Creamery (vegan gelato and baked goods), Burly Beverages, and Italian Ice as I mentioned before.  I really wish I had gotten food earlier but as I was wandering around, they sold out of food but I also came later in the day.

Here's my haul from that day.  I got a t-shirt from Rich and Riot since I LOVE her women positive message!  Yasss, girl boss!  And I got the cutest wood magnet and hair bows (the other one has been commandeered) from my friend Marie at The Freckled Moon.  I could have bought the whole booth, it was all so cute!

And the Italian Ice we got.  

Here's my Instagram Story from the event.  It's not at all professional but it will give you the idea of what you can expect when you go to RCMP.


The next event is April 30 and I'm going to try to go.  Do you have events you think I should check out?  Leave them in the comments please!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Top Ten Trader Joe's Items - Spring 2017

Hi friends!  I hope you are doing well!  We are pretty good just still dealing with these seasonal allergies.  Today, I'm sharing my currently top ten favorite staples from Trader Joe's.  (This is NOT sponsored, but if anyone wants to get me a sponsorship with Trader Joe's, that would be amazing.  LOL!)  These are just the items I reach for every time I go to Trader Joe's for myself and the family.

These items are a little less conventional, I guess.  I didn't add gallons of milk or bananas and the kinds of things that most people grab all year long.  I hope this is helpful to someone.

1. Roasted Tomatillo Salsa - refrigerated.  This stuff is SO good!  A while ago, my hubby and I kinda got burned out on chips and salsa but when we tried some green salsa at a friend's house, we were hooked again. I love this salsa from the refrigerated section!  It's so bright and fresh!  It has a little heat but not too much.  We mostly eat this with chips but you can also add it to tacos or anything.

2. Organic Jasmine Rice - frozen.  This is sheer convenience.  I usually make a big pot of fresh rice but every now and then one of the kids will need to eat real quick before leaving for an activity and this rice is just perfect.  I can pop it in the microwave and give them rice with leftover meat or stir fry.  This is also great when you have a little bit of leftover takeout and don't want to cook up a whole pot of rice.

3. Orange Chicken - frozen.  This is a family favorite.  The kids LOVE orange chicken and will gobble this up.  It's so much cheaper than takeout and it's really simple.  It's probably not super healthy but it's a sometimes food.  Also, if you kid just wants "popcorn chicken" you can take some out before adding the sauce and you don't have to cook chicken twice.

4. Frozen Blueberries.  My kids love this as a snack!  Usually they prefer the frozen to the fresh and I think it is because they are like tiny popsicles.  These are also great in smoothies or acai bowls.

5. Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago cheese blend.  My daughter calls this "regular cheese" and will eat it on it's own.  It's a little pungent and has a lot of umami.  My hubby and I like this cheese on our pasta dishes.

6. Caramelized Onion Cheddar.  This is one of my favorite cheeses.  We usually use this cheese to snack on.  We serve it with crackers and/or cured meats.  I love the crumbly texture and the flavor of the onions in the cheese!  Also, I think they have improved the recipe.  This cheese seemed to mold a lot faster before but now I don't have that issue.

7. Reduced Guilt Pita Chips.  My kids LOVE these pita chips!  They will just eat them plain.  I feel a bit better about them eating these than regular chips.  My hubby and I use these pita chips to eat with hummus.  They are really good and they don't taste like low-fat.

8. Orangina.  I'm trying to cut way back on sodas and alcohol.  I drink this when I'm craving a soda.  It's not super healthy but at least it has juice in it instead of just artificial flavorings.  I also drink this at brunch instead of mimosas since it is sparkling with citrusy.

9. Persian Cucumbers.  These little cucumbers are so yummy and are the perfect size for the kids to have a snack.  I wash them and cut off the ends and the kids will just eat them.  Sometimes I cut them into spears and we eat them with dip.  Sometimes if I'm making a single serving of salad, I will add this instead of cutting up a full sized cucumber.

10. Cilantro and Jalapeno Hummus.  We love spicy food and we like the brightness of cilantro!  This hummus is so good!  We will eat it with the pita chips or cucumbers shown above or with carrots and other cut up veggies.  This is also a great spread to use on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise.  It adds a lot of flavor without adding as much fat.

If anyone is interested in posts like these, I can do one each season.  There are some yummy winter and fall items we love from Trader Joe's.  What do you like from Trader Joe's?  I would love if you left a comment with your suggestions!  I love trying new things!

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Friday, April 7, 2017

That One Time I Accidentally Stalked Top Chef's Jamie Lauren

Back in February, I wiggled my way into a dinner hosted by my good friend Heather for people coming into town for her Lularoe training event.  She told me that she was having it at Blackbird since it was close to the hotel where people were staying.  I had never been to Blackbird so I started my research.

When I go to a restaurant, I want to try the best they have to offer.  I don't want to judge them off an obscure menu item that no one ever orders and I want food that photographs beautifully.  My usual places to check are Instagram then Yelp.  Since I LIVE on Instagram (follow me if you haven't :D ), I went to do some research.  The Blackbird Instagram page didn't have any updated posts so I tapped on their location to see what pictures would pop up.  This is where I get myself into trouble.

I found some awesome food pictures from someone I thought was their chef.  I didn't pay attention to the name.  I check out the food pictures and try to decide what I want to order.  When it came close to the event, I left a comment "I can't wait to try some dishes tomorrow" or something to that effect.  And the chef replies "See you then."  Then I get awkwardly creepy (in true Ashley fashion) and say something like "Will I actually get to see you?"  Wow, I'm embarrassed.  I meant, is it a gallery kitchen or does the chef bring out the food to the table herself... Not, "Hi, I'm a crazy stalker."

But it gets worse.  The night of the event rolls around and we are all there having a great time.  There are drinks, food, friends, and tons of laughter.  Eventually, I excuse myself to use the lady's room.  Upon exiting, I notice a sign by the mirror and cleverly written backwards is the phrase Time for a Selfie.  Well... you don't have to ask me twice!  I'm in the bathroom, taking selfies when someone walks in.  Of course, I'm all embarrassed.

But the darling girl says "No, that's what it's there for" and pulls out her phone and takes a photo with me.  I asked her to text me the phone.  I start chatting with her and discover that she's the chef at the restaurant.  She looked so young that I thought she was a dishwasher or a busser.  I started talking to her wondering if she's the person I've been talking to on Instagram.  Of course, I don't realize until later that she's established Sacramento Chef Carina Lampkin.

Another lady walks into the bathroom.  I look up at her and think, I KNOW her.  How do I know her?  Then I think, OH MY GOSH, she was on Top Chef!  I'm for some reason still in the bathroom chatting.  Of course (because why would I have boundaries) I ask her "Were you on Top Chef?"  And she says "yes."  Then I start talking to her and realize that she's the person I've been talking to on Instagram and now I've CORNERED HER IN A BATHROOM LIKE A CRAZY PERSON.  Yet, I still ask if I can take a picture with her because I still haven't realize how much of a stalker I sound like.  I'm just pumped full of adrenaline in the moment.  She is such a great sport and goes to get Carina so we can get a group photo.

It wasn't until I was walking back up the stairs of the restaurant to join my friends that I reflected back on ALL my actions from the last day.  Then I realized that poor Top Chef Jamie Lauren probably thought I stalked her to the place where she was a guest chef and corned her in the bathroom.  I went back to Instagram and tried to apologize.  I text Carina back and thank her for taking the time to talk to me and for the photo.  And GUESS WHAT?  I was invited back to try more menu items!  She tells me that she and Jamie will cook for me themselves!  I almost fainted.

Here are some of the amazing dishes I got to try and another picture I forced Jamie to take with me:

I've since been invited back a few times to meet about food blogging and social media.  Unfortunately, Jamie had to leave to do other work.  (LOTS of exciting things coming up in her future!) But she left her menu behind at Blackbird and let me tell you, her food is even more amazing than I thought it would be after watching her on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars.  You gotta try her food!  I felt like I was experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity right here in Sacramento at Blackbird.  

And the moral of the story is that sometimes you are so painfully, awkwardly yourself and people can still see your goodness and your well meaning intentions.  

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