Featured Client: European Market

by Aubre Andrus on October 23, 2014

logo_EM2I’ve been working with so many cool clients that I need to start sharing them with you! This is the first of my Featured Client series.

The Client
European Market is a fabulous e-commerce site owned by Chris and Sue, a husband-and-wife team in Madison, Wisconsin who’ve previously worked for Better Homes & Garden magazine. They basically have my dream job: they scour Europe for high-quality local products then import and sell them on their website.

If you’re looking for super unique and beautiful holiday gifts from amazing Finnish serving sets to Dutch Navy blankets to Latvian building blocks to Czech glass garland for your Christmas tree, this is *the* place to start — and finish — your shopping. You will find more than one thing for yourself — you’ve been warned. Besides gathering great merchandise, they’ve also gathered some great travel tips along the way. Be sure to check out the travel smart tips on their site.

Cabbie-Chris-e1411527048250-1080x675What They Needed
Chris and Sue were looking for a “low-hanging fruit” kind of social media plan that was doable and manageable by a small business with one full-time employee. Nothing grand and overly complicated. The ultimate goal was to increase business, increase brand awareness, and increase the audience but also to strengthen the connection with their customers and audience.

What I Did
I drafted up social media strategy documents for European Market including an extensive influencer report that identifies blogs, keywords, hashtags, and other social presences they should associate themselves with as well as social media tips for each network and unique post ideas. I also created an analysis report that examined their competition and their potential. They utilized the information they gleaned from this one-time strategy session to increase the efficiency and reach of their social media presences and marketing efforts. 

Check out European Market now: http://europeanmarket.us/

Image via European Market blog.

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My Five Go-To Dinner Recipes

by Aubre Andrus on October 20, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 10.28.59 PMI have a bit of an obsession with trying new recipes. Sometimes I go on such a big recipe binge that I completely forget about the good ones I discovered. I finally went ahead and made a Pinterest board called Tried and True Recipes where I can bookmark my favorites, but you’re in luck because I just picked the best of the best and I’m sharing them with you.

Lemongrass Pork Meatball Quinoa Bowl {via I am a Food Blog}
This was so fantastically delicious. It’s light but filling. You can find lemongrass with the small plastic packages of herbs in the refrigerated produce section. Trim the top and bottom of the lemongrass stick and then peel off one of the outer layers before mincing it into tiny pieces. Don’t skip it for this recipe!

Korean Beef Rib Tacos with Asian Slaw {via Carpe Season}
If you’re craving Asian tacos, this recipe will do the trick. You’ll need a lot more meat then you think and you’ll be playing Jenga in your crock pot. I think the slaw could be improved upon but until I find the perfect substitute, I’ll stick to this because it was still delish. FYI Rice vinegar was easy to find at the grocery store.

Quinoa, Chickpea and Avocado Salad {via Rabbit Food for my Bunny Teeth}
I can’t stand the name of this blog, but I’ve made this recipe at least 20 times. It calls to stuff the avocados with the quinoa mix, but that’s ridiculous. I just cut up avocado cubes and mix them into the quinoa. I also save the cilantro and spinach as toppings for the salad and don’t mix them into the dressing. Great for lunch leftovers the next day.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup {via Little Spice Jar}
This slow cooker recipe is awesome with either green curry paste or red curry paste. I’ve also used both pad thai noodles and vermicelli noodles. You may want to wait to add the second can of coconut milk (so it doesn’t curdle) until the last 20 minutes when you add the mushrooms and peppers, which is also when you can add the noodles directly to the crock pot. This is great for leftovers.

Crispy Coconut Kale with Salmon {via Goop}
The rice and kale are my favorite parts of this dish. It’s amazing what a can of coconut milk can do to rice. FYI I skip the coconut flakes because there’s a lot of coconut going on here. This recipe calls for lacinato kale, which seems to bake in the oven much better than regular kale. I’ve done it both ways though and it’s not the end of the world if you can’t find lacinato kale (check Whole Foods). FYI You don’t even need to make the sweet potatoes with this dish — you can gorge on the rice.

Note: Be sure to buy Thai Coconut Milk and not Coconut Cream (thicker) or Cream of Coconut (thicker and sweeter). And it helps to shake the can before opening it.

 

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Where Should You Travel Next?

by Aubre Andrus on October 17, 2014

People are constantly asking me where they should travel next. It can be a hard question to answer because I often don’t really know what kind of traveler they are or what exactly they are looking for. Relaxation? Romance? Adventure? I find it easier to learn what kind of traveler you are based on which previous trips you’ve loved. Here are just a few recommendations with some photos from my travels:

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If you like Colorado… go to Alaska.
Every time I’ve been to Denver, it’s been fantastic. The air is clear, the sky is blue, the sun is warm, and the mountains are snow capped. How could it get any better? Just go to Alaska and you’ll find out. Imagine those snow-capped mountains and bright blue skies mixed with sparkling water, lush forests, and unbelievable marine life.

329832_10100704707796807_6680556_oIf you like Paris… go to Vienna.
I don’t care if it’s cliché — I love Paris. I want to live there. And there’s one other city that had the same love-at-first-sight effect on me — Vienna. It’s another romantic city with gorgeous architecture and a very fancy vibe. In both places, you can waste the day away drinking wine outside, indulging in desserts, shopping markets, and going to the opera.

39705_10100099117240137_5422860_nIf you like Chicago… go to Toronto.
Toronto felt like home, and Chicago is the only other city that feels like home to me besides my adopted home of Madison, Wisconsin. Both Chicago and Toronto are trendy cities with a laid-back vibe, great food and shopping, and interesting architecture. Both cities also are divided into many different neighborhoods that are sometimes drastically different from one another.

210839_10100446648180347_987523559_oIf you like Nashville… go to New Orleans.
I don’t know why anyone goes to Vegas these days. Nashville and New Orleans are superior choices for party weekends. Both cities are exponentially better than their Nevada counterpart because of their incredibly unique histories in addition to the nightlife. Nashville is the ultimate home of country music and food, and New Orleans is the capital of Cajun food and jazz. If you like one, you’ll like the other — they’re both a little gritty.

1456126_10102662437885017_944593874_nIf you like Budapest… go to Istanbul.
We’re not as familiar with Hungarian culture as we are with, say, French or British culture. But if you loved visiting the baths, spending an afternoon in a palatial coffee shop, and admiring the gothic Parliament Building in Budapest, you’ll love Istanbul. The city is located half in Europe and half in Asia. The architecture will make you rethink everything you know. And hearing the call to prayer while feeling the breeze off the Bosphorus Strait is something you’ll never forget.

 

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My Adventures with a Standing Desk

by Aubre Andrus on September 4, 2014

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Just about every media outlet has written something about standing desks as of late. Here’s all you need to know: sitting is killing you slowly and people love their standing desks. Once they start, they can’t stop. I am no exception. Here’s what else you need to know: you can hack your own standing desk very easily and cheaply, but make sure you buy an anti-fatigue mat. SRSLY. Ok. Back to my story…

One Monday in April, I was feeling fat so I started researching treadmill desks. I soon realized it was unlikely I would be able to afford one or use one or hack one. So I jerry-rigged the next best thing — a standing desk. With my wedding dress box (for my keyboard), an overturned Target storage bin (for my desktop), and a pile of books (for my trackpad), I managed to create a decent set-up. And I fell in love after four hours.

I didn’t mess around on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest because I was standing. And if I was standing, I wanted to power through my work so I could get it done and eventually reward myself with the chance to sit. But here was the even more magical part: there was no afternoon slump. I actually felt energized once 5PM rolled around — I worked out, made dinner, did my laundry, and cleaned my entire office after a full day of work. I was hooked. My feet hurt pretty badly that night, but that was my only side effect besides the boundless energy. After a few days, there was still no back pain but my legs and butt were sore from standing so much even with the extra padding from my gym shoes. But overall I felt 100 times better.

Although a standing desk proved to be a game changer, spending $1000+ on a potential fad seemed a bit extreme. I promised myself that I could splurge on an electronic standing desk if I first used a cheaper hacked standing desk every day for three months straight. After some serious online research about the best anti-fatigue mat and how to hack a standing desk with IKEA products and the proper height dimensions for standing desks, I ordered a few supplies:

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Paired with my overturned Target storage bin and my existing desk, this standing desk hack served me well. Because I work from home, I can wear workout clothes and bare feet. Why is this helpful? Because I’m constantly stretching and moving and stepping and tip-toeing and bending and squatting and lunging. I essentially use my desk like a ballet barre. When I want to take a break and sit down, I slide the anti fatigue mat under my desk, ditch the shelf, angle my screen downward, and roll up my chair. With an automated electronic standing desk, I could change from standing to sitting with a push of a button.

Did I end up using a standing desk every day for three months? Nope. This summer I went on a coffee shop rampage because I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the weather. Sitting at a table at a coffee shop really hurt at first — it was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t last for more than an hour. But don’t worry, I worked hard to keep my ass in that chair and re-instilled the horrible habit of sitting all day. Eventually my back started hurting so badly that continuous yoga classes were the only remedy. I finally realized how stupid I was and went back to the standing desk situation in my office.

Now it’s September and I’m just getting back into the routine. If I last through December, perhaps it will justify a $700 Locus Seat (for quick sitting breaks) and this $500 standing desk. But when you think about it, $1200 is a small price to pay for a healthier body and a more productive career.

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Pretty in Paper Won an Oppenheim Gold Seal Award!

by Aubre Andrus on July 30, 2014

Gold Book 170The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio awarded Pretty in Paper a 2014 Gold Award in the Best Book category! Gold Seal Awards are “given to outstanding new products that enhance the lives of children.” How cool is that? You can read their review of Pretty in Paper here and see the other winners here

If you haven’t heard of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, it was created by child development experts Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim (a mother-daughter duo) in 1989 to independently review children’s media. They cover books, toys, audio, and video for infants through tweens. Stephanie is on the TODAY show occasionally, so who knows? Maybe my book will make it on TV one day… 

I’m super excited to be included in the 2014 lineup of products that are great for kids! This is the second time one of my books has won an award (Slumber Wonders won a Silver Honor Award from the California Reading Association) and it’s super flattering.

Buy Pretty in Paper on Amazon.
Buy Pretty in Paper at American Girl.

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photo (1)As a freelancer, the number one question I’m asked is whether or not I get stir crazy working from home. Funny enough, I tend to get cabin fever in the summer not the winter. In the winter, I’m more than happy to avoid a snowy commute and cold temps, but in the summer I want to get out there and join the world. Because of that, I’ve been frequenting coffee shops often lately. Just like the Eater 38 (an updated list of the best restaurants in the city), I want to compose a quarterly list of the best places for freelancers to work from in Chicago. If you know of any great places to work from in Chicago that meet the strict requirements, let me know! I’d love to check them out!

When I go to a coffee shop, I expect a beautiful place where I can do good work. I want to avoid coffee shop disasters. As always, here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Free wi-fi
  • Plentiful outlets
  • Food made in-house
  • Good music
  • Great ambiance
  • Comfortable seating

1. Buzz Killer Espresso (Wicker Park)
Despite the two-hour wi-fi limit (I just grab multiple wi-fi cards from the counter… shhh…) and the fact that there’s no food (I sneak in my own and sit upstairs… shhh…), the lighting in this place can’t be beat. My favorite place to sit is in the upstairs booths — each table has a plug and there’s a bathroom just a few steps away. I love that they leave the windows open so it’s never freezing. There’s also a small outdoor patio overlooking Damen. Oh, and the iced coffee is addicting.

2. Bourgeois Pig (Lincoln Park)
This is a new find for me so now I’m obsessed. It’s an incredibly overpriced sandwich shop (with dishes named after literary characters) on one side, a coffee shop on the other, and it’s all built into an old house with cozy nooks and rooms. I love the upstairs seating on the coffee side and the weird portraits hanging from the wall. Apparently the owner lives above the sandwich side. Old school jazz plays all day and it’s amazing. No limit on the wi-fi despite what the Yelp reviews say. Small outdoor patio.

3. Filter (Wicker Park)
An old reliable. There is a full working kitchen here with legit breakfast and lunch options plus tons of vintage couches, seats, and tables plus plenty of outlets. Filter always has a laid back vibe and there’s no limit on the free wifi. You’ll never be disappointed here — unless you want to sit outside because there is no outdoor seating. Cash only but you can also pay with the Level Up app, which hooks up to your credit card.

4. Heritage Bicycles General Store (Lakeview)
This place is like hipster catnip. Bike store + coffee shop = awesome atmosphere. It feels like a real neighborhood joint where everyone knows each other. I mean, the owner lives upstairs with his family for the love of god. His kid rode through the shop on a little scooter to say goodbye to his dad, which was the cutest thing ever. There aren’t a ton of seats and you’ll likely sit on a stool at a communal table, which could get uncomfortable for extended periods of time. There’s also a small seating area outside overlooking North Lincoln.

5. Alliance Bakery (Wicker Park)
Another neighborhood favorite. Pick up a delish croissant or cronut and iced coffee then head next door to their wifi outpost or sit outside on the patio. The seating area is nothing fancy but it’s quiet and charming and looks onto Division. Because it’s detached from the bakery, you don’t have to listen to loud espresso machines.

In the running:
Lovely: A Bake Shop (Noble Square): Great light, delish food.
Big Shoulders (Noble Square): Decent atmosphere.
The Wormhole (Wicker Park): A little too cool for school.
Dollop (River East): Super tall ceilings, lots of light.
Floriole (Lincoln Park): When the huge front windows are open, it’s great.
Gaslight Coffee Roasters (Logan Square): Seating options aren’t great.
Letizia’s Natural Bakery (Wicker Park): Great food, patio in back.
A Baker’s Tale (Ukrainian Village): Cute place.

Places I want to check out soon:
The Winchester (Ukrainian Village): Open all day, free wifi.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Bucktown): New breakfast service with wi-fi coming soon.
Elaine’s Coffee Call (Lincoln Park): No wifi unless you’re a Hotel Lincoln guest.
Puck’s at Museum of Contemporary Art: Don’t need to pay museum admission.

Non-Coffee Shops with Free Wi-Fi:
Harold Washington Library (South Loop): I love working from the Winter Garden.
Chicago Cultural Center (Loop): Need to test this one out one more time.
Cafecito (South Loop): Best cuban sandwich ever, next to a hostel so there’s always an interesting crowd.
Little Goat (West Loop): I effing love this place and there’s a rooftop now.

The Blacklist:
All Intelligentsia Coffee Shops: I love your coffee, but you have no outlets and terrible seating.
La Colombe Coffee — it’s beautiful but there’s no wifi or food. But there is bubbly water on tap.

Illustration by me, on the Paper app. 

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