Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Escape Monthly November: Arizona Box review

laelene Posted in reviews, subscriptions,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Happy birthday to my mom! It’s nice to have it around Thanksgiving, since that often means seeing her on or near her birthday. Before the holiday weekend, I received my most recent box. Check it out!

Escape Monthly is just under $40 per box (with code for 20% off your subscription – see end of post) and comes with a variety of food, home, skincare items themed around a city/region. Each box comes with a guide for that area. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral commission program.

escape monthly november arizona box products showing escape monthly november arizona box info card escape monthly november arizona box info card opened with fact sheet showing escape monthly november arizona box info card opened with details of products included(click to enlarge and read full messaging)

At first glance, there are some cool items here and I immediately gravitated towards the mug. Normally I would have liked the bath puff type thing but that was overshadowed by something I find even more useful!

Here’s what came in the box:

Moon Handbooks guide to Tucson – I’ve only briefly stopped by Arizona before and never been to Tucson, so I should add it to my list of places to visit. At some point I expect to live in SoCal again, so then it wouldn’t be too bad of a drive to go out there.

Arizona Sun Lip-Kist lip balm – Haha, I like that this is “kissed with lemon” and the tube looks like it. I’ll save this in my growing collection of lip balms. It feels like something I’d want to use in the summer!

Arizona Sun bath and shower gel – I like that this is paraben and sulfate free, though the green color is odd. Since I don’t use shower gel much (more of a soap kind of girl), I’ll see if the husband wants to use it. I got a whiff of it and it had a very unique scent I couldn’t quite pin down. Aloe, maybe?

Route 66 travel mug – It is a surprise that this is my favorite item? It shouldn’t be. I just love things I can use that also look nice. This will be perfect in the coming winter months, so I can bring some hot water with me in the mornings.

blue mesh bath puff – Won’t this go well with the shower gel? This will come in useful when Panda needs a replacement. It’s quite dense so I’m sure it will work up a very good lather. Their little description about all things blue was a fun way to tie it all together.

Cowgirl Chocolate dark chocolate truffle bar – I’m always down for more chocolate! Lately I’ve gotten some really good ones from boxes, like the one from the last Escape Monthly box. I’m excited to eat this one too.

Phizz – I’ve never tried a fizzy tablet before, but I really should have had this before traveling for Thanksgiving. The stress of the travel and the change in climate must have gotten to my body, because I had a cold sore breakout. Ick. So now I will have one and hope for a speedy recovery! Next time I’ll need to remember to take it before traveling. I’m surprised that the pill looked rather pink, but then it dissolved into a dark orange color, sort of like orange soda. The taste was sort of like a watered down Gatorade.

turquoise necklace – I doubt I will wear this since I don’t really use much jewelry, so I will probably trade this or gift it to someone. I do like that it’s hardcrafted and showcasing Arizona’s state gem.

My wish for an Asian destination didn’t come true this time, but I did like learning a bit more about Arizona. Maybe I’ll be inspired to drive Route 66 there someday! Which products from this Arizona Escape Monthly box do you like most? If you want to sign up, be sure to sign up for their newsletter to get a code for 20% off the lifetime of your subscription.

[This post contains affiliate links. Signing up through them helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. 🙂 All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

Escape Monthly October: California Box review

laelene Posted in reviews, subscriptions,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wow, I can hardly believe it was well over a year ago that the other California box came. I’ve got to say, this box introduced me to some great products that I quite enjoy!

Escape Monthly is just under $40 per box (with code for 20% off your subscription – see end of post) and comes with a variety of food, home, skincare items themed around a city/region. Each box comes with a guide for that area. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral commission program.

escape monthly october california box products showing escape monthly october california box info card escape monthly october california box info card opened with fact sheet showing escape monthly october california box info card opened with details of products included(click to enlarge and read full messaging)

As before, I like the skincare items that were included. Guess there are a lot of those great brands out west. The other stuff is pretty cool too and overall this box has more things I’ll use.

Here’s what came in the box:

Frommer’s EasyGuide to San Francisco – This is only the second Frommer’s book that they’ve used. It’s got a ton of maps that will be useful in finding things. I’ve only ever explored SF on my own of things I’d heard of, so I’m curious what the guide will recommend.

Goldrush Sourdough Starter – This is packaged to be mailed like a postcard, which would be a fun thing to do from CA. I love sourdough bread and I’ve never thought about making it, so this should be exciting! I might even take this home to LA with me this Thanksgiving to try it out in my mom’s bread machine.

California Mango cleansing gel and hand & body lotion – As I’ve recently learned, mango skincare products smell amazing. These generous tubes will last me a very long time! I’ll smell fabulous coming out of the shower. The lotion almost smells a little bit coconuty, which is also a super tropical sort of scent.

sisal pouch – I’ve got small pouches with smaller holes for the solid shampoo and conditioner pieces that are too small to use alone and now I have the perfect pouch for my soap! I recently got a cute wool soap that’s meant to do a similar thing. I can also use this as a glove to scrub my body with if I want a rougher exfoliation.

Torn Ranch milk chocolate truffle bar – I just got a bunch of chocolate in Europe, so I’m saving this one to eat later. The truffle bar sounds rich and wonderful – can’t wait to try it!

loofah pad – I’m all about exfoliating, so I’m happy to have this to use in the shower. I might even make soap and pour it around it to make loofah soap, like this one cool bar I once got from Hawaii.

Napa Organics face mist and face oil – Ooo, now these look like luxurious products. I love mists and toners, so this toner mist is just perfect to use after washing my face. I swear the oil smells like some sort of honey (clover honey maybe?) that I’ve had before. It has a nice earthy element to it and feels like it could be a healing tonic with medicinal qualities.

travel wallet – Too bad I didn’t get this before our travels, or I could have used it to keep some money and cards stored away. I think it could just fit my passport in it as well and definitely plane tickets, which would have been nice to help me organize all my stuff.

I think a lot of the focus here was on NorCal products, so I hope that there’s a SoCal or LA or San Diego box in the future, to learn more about products from my neck of the woods. No idea what the next destination is but I’m hoping more Asian countries will show up. There are amazing things to be found out there. What products from this California Escape Monthly box do you like most? If you want to sign up, be sure to sign up for their newsletter to get a code for 20% off the lifetime of your subscription.

[This post contains affiliate links. Signing up through them helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. 🙂 All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

European goodies

laelene Posted in photo blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Panda and I had a fun time on our tour of Europe and came home with some great items! Most of our focus was on eating local food, seeing the historical sites, and exploring the cities – but I still managed to bring back some things.

bags of pasta, bottle of olive oil, and bar of chocolate from italy
In Italy, I insisted on finding some fun pasta. I had an amazing Milka bar that then prompted the purchase of this giant one. And that bottle of olive oil came from our dinner meal, where the restaurant explained that oil olive is best enjoyed fresh, so when you purchase bread and oil, you get your own bottle to use. Anything unused can be taken home.

chocolate bars, bamboo utensils, mug, hot chocolate powder, and gingerbread from france
In France I had to get something from the Eiffel Tower, as I’m wont to do when I go. Lately I’ve been into unique mugs, so this one with legs caught my interest. At Versailles we had lunch at Angelina and I saw a loaf of gingerbread with honey that sounded good. At Orly airport there was an amazing shop of treats (mostly candy, just the way I like it). I found flavors of Toblerones that I never heard of before! The Oreo Milka looked too good to pass up and the guy kindly offered a discount on the hot chocolate tins, which are gifts for the folks who helped watch the cats while we were gone. Finally, we ate at Exki in the airport and I was a total sucker for their bamboo utensils and grabbed at set to use at work.

empty glass yogurt jars and tea forte tea bags
At the hotel in Paris, they had adorable yogurts in glass containers that we rinsed out and kept, along with fun tea boxes.

sauce bowls, tous earrings, shot glass, and drinks from spain
In Spain our big purchase was the Tous earrings, which is a brand Panda loves because of the cute bear designs. They’re Spanish, so we were hoping for a good selection and were rewarded with not only that, but excellent prices as well. It happened to be located in an El Corte Ingles shopping center that offered a loyalty card for 10% of your purchase value towards the next one. The amount earned from the earrings was exactly enough to get the three sauce bowls – perfect since I’ve wanted that sort of thing for a long time. Then the points earned from that plus 0.45€ was enough to get that shot glass for my collection! Love the bonus items we got. 🙂 The two drinks were from the hotel.

swedish chocolate bar from germany airport
On our way home we had a few more Euros left and one of the only things that we could get for 4,20€ or less was this bar of chocolate (from Sweden, nonetheless)!

A soufflé dining adventure

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

While in Paris, Panda and I were looking for a popular and special place to have dinner. With much searching, he came across Le Soufflé – offering a completely soufflé experience. They had a three-course meal that was all soufflés!

We eagerly walked there after a long day of exploring and stepped inside to a cozy little entry. A gentleman approached and asked if we had a reservation. We did not, so we wondered what the wait would be.

“I’m sorry, we are booked for the rest of the evening,” he told us.

“When’s the next time you have an opening?” we inquired.

“All reservations for the night are taken,” he explained. “You can make a reservation for tomorrow lunch.”

Disappointed, we stepped out and considered our options for our meal. It was past 9 and many restaurants were closing within the hour. We returned to the hotel to get online and search for somewhere else with soufflés.

With little success, we went to ask the concierge. He immediately recommended the restaurant we had been turned away from. We started telling him how they were booked, but he was already dialing their number. At first it seemed like they might give us a reservation, but then he started shaking his head. Fully booked. :-/

So he began calling a variety of other options asking if they at least served dessert soufflé. Finally, one place said yes – but it was not walking distance and we did not want to take a taxi. So as things looked more and more dismal, I was about ready to just eat at the hotel. Then, out of the blue, the concierge tells us we can go to Le Soufflé!

What?! We were confused. Apparently he had called them two more times and they had a cancellation, so we got in! We quickly rushed over the half mile or so to the restaurant and arrived aright round 10.

At first we planned on getting a set each, but upon seeing the size of the soufflés, we decided to share a single three-course meal. It was 37€ so we were happy to save on the cost too.

le souffle contact card with map of location

le souffle free bread, butter, and water to start the meal

We began with bread, butter, and water included in the meal.

le souffle artichoke & haddock appetizer souffle

The appetizer soufflé was the artichoke haddock, with pieces of both. It was very savory with that fish taste and a slight hint of tartness from the artichoke.

le souffle side salad

The side salad came with the first course.

le souffle chicken & mushroom main course souffle

Our main course was the chicken and mushroom. The chicken gravy came separately and we poured it bit by bit as we ate the soufflé. It reminded me of a chicken pot pie (which I had been craving) with a soft, fluffy top rather than a flaky crust.

le souffle chocolate dessert souffle

And to wrap it up was a classic chocolate soufflé, which came with a chocolate sauce to pour in. There was a graininess to it that I quite enjoyed. It was very sweet!

This was a fun dining experience and the meal felt very satisfying, even with such light food. I think ait’s  great thing to try for anyone new to the city. 🙂

The Italian way of life

laelene Posted in general blog, lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , ,

After Panda and I got to spend some time in Rome and the surrounding area, we learned a lot about Italian culture. I don’t seem to remember much of it from my first time in the country, either because I didn’t experience things the same, didn’t notice that time around, or forgot after all these years. I mean, it’s been 8 years! So here are some observations about how Italians seem to live their lives – while I still remember them all.

-They say “prego” a lot. Apparently this is a word that can mean many things in many contexts, so it is both highly useful for those who know it and highly confusing for those who don’t. Half the time I was wondering what the prego was supposed to imply in each given situation. The only one I got a hang of was when service folks used it to see if you needed anything. I’m pretty sure Panda used it a few times at times when it made no sense. 😛

-There are a lot of smokers, everywhere. At least they are on the streets and not inside! I’d forgotten how many more smokers you encounter on the streets of Europe and it’s really rather unpleasant. I’m always holding my breath, ducking clouds of smoke, and hoping I don’t stink of it myself by the end of the day.

roma trastavere train station in rome-Public transportation (and life) seems pretty lax. We got on many a train where our tickets weren’t checked at all. Not sure if the underground metro worked the same since we never ended up using that. The schedule generally works well, but the last night, we had a train that was 85 minutes late! At one point I found myself wondering why I wasn’t upset and why nobody else seemed upset either. That also seems to go with the generally lax approach. For us, it was because we were on vacation and just heading back to the hotel. No need to fret. For locals, perhaps they never even considered it a problem.

-Personal space is either nonexistent or like a one-inch radius from your body. I had multiple instances where people got too close for comfort, but they didn’t seem to notice a thing. At first it was just a couple who sat at the same bar stool area that Panda and I were eating at in McDonald’s (yes, we tried a local one). Out of all of the empty areas in the restaurant, they chose to be two seats away from us at the same table. I would have gotten a table to ourselves. Then there was a guy on the bus who swayed with the turns of the vehicle. Sometimes that meant bumping into me, despite the fact that he had a good two feet in front of him and even more to the sides. It was especially cringe-worthy because he reeked of cigarette smells. He also managed to brush hands with Panda when they were holding the same pole. At our stop, we both got off relieved to have some breathing room. Finally, there were the people who sat directly behind us on a long bench even though the entire rest of it was empty. And it was a loooong bench! I mean, you could easily seat at least 20 people on each side. Why did they have to come back to back with us, leaving just inches between our bodies? I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too Americanized. Funny enough though, this is something I expect in Asia, so I might not even notice it there.

-Street performers and hawkers are abound. Tons of musicians will perform all over the place and random people walk up to you casually selling battery packs for your devices, selfie sticks, flowers, or toys. For these type of people, the best policy for me has been no eye contact. Once you give them attention, they won’t leave you alone!

-In Rome for sure, but maybe more of Italy, they have little water spigots all over the place, which act as water fountains. The water never stops running out of them and you can go grab a few sips or fill up your water bottle at any of them. In fact, I remember my tour guide from my previous visit mentioning that all water fountains in Rome have drinking water – except Trevi Fountain. So hey, you really can’t go thirsty, can you?

And when it comes to food, oh my! What a difference…

italian outdoor seating on roads-First of all, they have some interesting outdoor seating. Oftentimes it’s a few tables and chairs that are actually on the road, off the curb. In more busy areas, they have a little barrier to create a sort of “room” for people to sit in. This would be life-threatening in the states, but in Italy it’s the norm!

-Just about every restaurant has morning and evening hours, with a break in the middle. Between 3-7, your meal options are very limited, so if you like to have dinner at 5 or 6, you better do your research. Dinners start late and go late in this part of the world. Personally, I’d rather eat earlier and get home.

-As you get each course, they tend to take away the food of the previous course. It seems irrelevant if you’ve still got a hunk of food on your plate. At first we were startled by this, but now I make sure to explain that I haven’t finished. I’m partial to eating a little bit of each course and switching between more than one at a time. This is why I love tapas, izakaya, dim sum, etc.

-This is the land of “beware what you ask for.” They tend to charge for all things, including bread, water, and sometimes even olive oil. If you really don’t care for it, don’t ask for it! Just say no (or no thanks).

ristochicco fettucine and roasted potatoes

I wanted fettucine with a tomato-based sauce, but they only offered a cream-based one that night.

-Menus are quite set (little to no flexibility to request modifications to a dish) and very seasonal – to the point that it’s a day to day, hour to hour kind of thing. That means that you can look forward to much fresher options, but it also means that the awesome picture you saw on Yelp may not be applicable to your visit. (Yes, that happened to me. Sad times.) I’ve seen some restaurants with very strict rules on ordering with no straying from exactly how the dishes are offered. The chefs are in control and rather finicky too. I’m not used to such particular ways and it doesn’t bode well for a picky eater like myself.

-Service is always slow. I’m not sure if it’s because of the relaxed pace of life or the fact that these establishments appear perpetually understaffed. Or if they’re “understaffed” by American standards because everyone takes it slow and they don’t need to go any faster. Either way, we’ve had to plan extra time for meals because we know it will take forever to get our order in, get leftovers boxed, and finally receive and pay our bill.

So there you go! Some of the lessons learned from our observations of how Italians do things. Have you experienced this too? What did I miss in my list?

Wishing for that Hawaiian sun

laelene Posted in video blog,Tags: , ,

With the weather taking a turn for the cold lately, my energy level is so low and I feel like I can’t get through the day. It makes me miss the gorgeous days in Hawaii…

morning wind and waves time lapse from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

hawaii sunrise time lapse from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

Escape Monthly August: Hawaii Box review

laelene Posted in reviews, subscriptions,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wow, Hawaii again? I hadn’t paid attention to when they announced the next month’s theme or I might have thought about the wisdom of a third Hawaii-themed box. Still, it turned out ok and there isn’t much overlap in products, which is great.

Escape Monthly is just under $40 per box (with code for 20% off your subscription – see end of post) and comes with a variety of food, home, skincare items themed around a city/region. Each box comes with a guide for that area. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral commission program.

escape monthly august hawaii box products showing escape monthly august hawaii box info sheet escape monthly august hawaii box info sheet opened with details of products included(click to enlarge and read full messaging)

I must say, I’m pleased with the selection here and really found some new favorites!

Here’s what came in the box:

Moon Handbooks guide to Maui – Darn, this is the same one I got in the second Hawaii box. I wish it was a third kind so I could keep amassing my collection! Now I don’t know what to do with this. Maybe donate it to a library?

Island Art Store map of old Hawaii vintage-style postcard – Adorable postcard that I’m going to keep as art! I love the look and feel and it’s a great little map of Hawaii. It’s just too nice to actually use!

Pure-Aid sport sunscreen – While sunscreen is important, I wish they’d included either a local brand or a tropical scented one at least. The sport version just seems generic, though it will be useful for the outdoor activities you’d want to do in Hawaii.

Kahala Pineapple slices – These are amazing snacks that I already want more of. I love how the pineapple is soft and slightly chewy. Most dried pineapple gets too hard and chewy for my liking. The sweetness was just right to offer a snack that’s also a treat. I see they’re in Whole Foods all around Hawaii, but what about elsewhere?! I’ll keep searching every Whole Foods I go to.

glass coasters – Totally random items that weren’t even listed but this pair of coasters is one of my favorite items. Ever since being a homeowner, I’ve enjoyed mundane household things. Like cute glass coasters. The design of seashells fits the Hawaiian theme nicely and these coasters add an elegant look to our coffee table.

surfboard keychain – This surfboard is nice and smooth with a glossy finish. I love the look of it but I wish I’d gotten any color other than pink! Oh well, it still looks good and I might swap out the Australian surfboard keychain on my keys for this one now.

Island Soap Candle Works plumeria blossom body wash – The body wash smells great, with a nice light flowery scent. I’ve never had anything plumeria scented before! I’m surprised this is the bonus item and would have expected the surfboard or coasters, but hey we seem to always get the bonus item anyway so that’s great.

Ola coconut body lotion – I’ve got this same scent from this brand in the body butter, which is of course thicker than this lotion. The coconut scent is quite subtle once you rub it on and the consistency is somewhat runny.

Ola passion fruit body mist – Whoa, what an immensely fruity smell! Great in the spring to liven things up, or to remind you of blossoming flowers. I like that this spray can be used around the room, on linens, or of course, on the body. It’s sure to add a little boost to the experience.

MacaMania Anahola tropical granola  – I’ll never love granola bars, but this one looks pretty good. I’m saving it for a trip when we do something like hiking or a long drive. It’s great to have a burst of energy for those types of things.

I’m happy with the different products being showcased this time around, but I do wish they wouldn’t rely on Hawaii so much. The third year in a row isn’t necessary when there are so many places in the world yet to explore. Which products from this Hawaii Escape Monthly box would you want too? If you want to sign up, be sure to sign up for their newsletter to get a code for 20% off the lifetime of your subscription.

Next up is Greece! Now that’s a great place we haven’t escaped to yet and I can’t wait to see what comes. I’ve been there before and really enjoyed it, so I hope some things remind me of my trip.

[This post contains affiliate links. Signing up through them helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. 🙂 All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

A string of travel troubles

laelene Posted in stories,Tags: , , ,

For the past two weeks, my family has been struck by some really unfortunate incidents. It started exactly two weeks ago, when we happily drove from the hotel to Pier 91 in Seattle. My parents, husband, aunt, cousin, and I were set to embark on our week-long cruise to Alaska. After dropping them off, Panda and I drove to the nearest rental car location to drop off the car. The plan was to walk back to the pier, which was about 3 miles away. As we were enjoying the day, debating whether we should take a bus for part of the trip, I got a phone call from my parents: my aunt and cousin would not be allowed on the cruise.

It was one of those surreal moments where I thought, “Could this actually be happening?” But indeed it could and it did. Turns out they needed Canadian visas since there was a stop in Victoria, BC. We were never informed of this and didn’t even realize there was a Canadian stop along the way. It was too late to do anything at that point, so I started looking up last-minute flights to Oakland, where my other cousin was. We found the nearest bus stop and got to the pier as quickly as possible. On the way, I managed to find a decently priced flight that afternoon. It was pretty devastating to see my aunt and cousin for the last time, having to send them off to the airport when we should have spent a week together on our “family honeymoon” (as I called it).

That totally changed the tone of our trip and it just wasn’t the same. We still managed to enjoy ourselves, but not nearly as much as we could have.

Upon arriving home after the vacation, I then heard from my mom that my dad nearly missed his flight back to China. They overestimated the time they had and he barely got let on the plane while his luggage was not allowed. So my mom had to ship the contents separately. We’re having some bad luck, my mom told me, don’t go out if you don’t have to and let it blow over. She felt that we needed time for the pattern to break.

The next day, I was thinking about my upcoming plans (and the other big vacation of the year, to Europe) when I suddenly realized that a week of team events at work coincided with my grand vacation. The very week that my team lead had asked us to check our availability for was the week that I’d be gone for my trip. I can’t believe I had not made the connection earlier; everyone had likely already booked their flights. I felt absolutely awful and didn’t know what to do. I considered the costs of rearranging the trip, but with multiple flights and some prepaid hotels, it would be too much. This was my first big screw-up and I profusely apologized when I told my team lead. Luckily, he’s a very chill guy, so he didn’t make a fuss about it. I still feel bad though, and irresponsible.

So then I thought that maybe things were on the up and up. When my mom told me about my aunt losing her bag and having it stole in SF, I thought the troubles were back. But then it turns out the thief got hit by a car (what?!) and the police were able to return her purse when the processed the scene. Wow. And I did get a smile first thing Monday morning, when I had a gift on my desk: a bag full of cat toys. One of the guys who worked in our co-working space dropped it by over the weekend. Last Friday was his last day (of course his two weeks had to be during my vacation) and he’d been meaning to bring his extra cat things, but he kept forgetting. So I was super surprised when it actually showed up!

I’m hoping that this all means the unfortunate circumstances will stop plaguing us now. I’m generally a pretty lucky person, so I’d like things to return to normal.

Scenic sights

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Been away for awhile on a cruise to Alaska! Check out some of the sights so far. There’s all sorts of awesomeness, with more pics to come. 🙂

carnival legend leaving seattle port with space needle in background

Cruise ship view of Seattle.

sunshine reflected on deep black ocean water

Glittering black waters.

glacial ice floating in tracy arm fjord with glacier in background

Ice chunks floating in the fjord!! And that’s a glacier back there.

forest area on trails of skagway with spider in foreground

A little bit of land exploration too. Tried to get the spider in the foreground.

Pet store finds

laelene Posted in video blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,

Check out these adorable little guys!

hoppy hamster from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

spazzy hamster from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

rabbit speed chewing from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

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