Wearable Art by Miz Meliz and Giveaway ends 12-11! #AVeryMaryChristmas

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Sometimes, an opportunity too fun to pass up comes along. Even if it seems a bit zany, you just have to trust your gut and go for it. Lucky for me I did just that and met the fabulous (and now dear friend of mine), Melissa Reyes, back in 2013.

I had been blogging for just shy of a year, and whilst scrolling through one of my Facebook blogging groups, I noticed a post from Melissa looking for a road trip buddy to run up to San Francisco that coming weekend. I told her I would love to. I had met her….maybe, once, and barely. I was basically going on a 6 hour road trip with a total stranger. These thoughts went through my mind as I later found out, Melissa was getting a back up plan for what to do and where to stay if I turned out to be nuts.

As we all know, neither of us are crazy (Just crazy FUN when we get together!) and since our blogging venture almost 4 years ago, it has been amazing to see Melissa evolve and accomplish so much. She has published a book, launched her weekly live online series, Tinsel Town with Miz Meliz and, latest expertise to add to her never-ending resume of curiosity? Artist.

One of Melissa’s latest projects is her arts and crafts online store, Miz Meliz. Making “Wearable Art” (how catchy is that term?!), as well as jewellery and decorative artistry, Melissa pours her heart and soul into these pieces and I just cannot get enough of them.

Lucky for me, Melissa now has the perfect gift box set plan for art junkies like myself. Miz Meliz recently launched a monthly plan subscription enabling her community to purchase jewelry gift sets sent to your mailbox for $40 per month. (Psst, a single gift set is $45). I got to experience the introductory month and let me tell you: It did not disappoint! Check it out:

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And, we all know half of the fun when you get a package is opening up your treats, no?

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Since Melissa does know me, I could not wait to see what she had in store for my box. I ended up with an adorable rope-style chain necklace with one of her beautiful bauble glass designs (my favorite), a butterfly pendent perfect to make a pin or make a choker-chain style necklace, a bracelet and a pair of earrings. The coolest part? These pieces would go perfectly all paired together, or, pick and choose which to mix and match…or, share the love by sharing a piece, too 😉

That is just what I would like to do! Would you or someone you know like to win these gorgeous handmade earrings?

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Perfect for that holiday party, or even to glam up while out in the shopping bustle, I cannot wait to gift these to one lucky winner in part with my #AVeryMaryChristmas giveaways! See the form below to enter and, make sure to check out my sweepstakes tab. Enter by December 11th. Good luck and remember to check out Miz Meliz for all of your feminine and artistic holiday gifts. Bonus points? Melissa is donating 10% of her proceeds to St. Jude’s Hospital all December long! 🙂

Good luck! xo

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A Visit to Del’Oliva Olive Oil and Vinegar Shop & Giveaway ends 12-11! #AVeryMaryChristmas

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I am an avid olive oil user. Once favored by Chefs and considered ‘fancy’ if you used it regularly, olive oil has become a very common and “it” oil to use in the kitchen, and rightly so. Since I discovered the various uses for it, it has become my go-to. I also love when I stumble upon infused oils that enable me to enhance favorite dishes like  grilled salmon, drizzled not just with olive oil, but, lemon-infused. Heavenly!

You can imagine that I became a kid in a candy store when I headed to Del’Oliva on my IFWTWA tour of San Mateo County, California. Within the region is the adorable town of Birmingham. With a quaint downtown street lined with unique boutiques and eateries, one of the boulevard’s gems is  Del’Oliva; a gorgeous shop that steps you inside to the world of Italy with olive oil and vinegar’s….plus, perfect gifts for hosts and hostesses, and an intimate wine area in the back of the shop.

We soon met with Eddie Sohirad, Del’Oliva’s owner. From the moment you meet Sohirad, you can tell this is a man passionate about the correct ways of olive oils! Not knowing too much about the delicate process myself, it was fascinating to learn important facts such as:

  • Olive oil is very high in Polyphenols. This is a compound found in foods that has been scientifically proven to relieve pain and inflammation nearly the EXACT same way over the counter pain reliever drugs do. And, if that doesn’t sell you: Its been providing pain relief for over 5,000 years! Many people find that ingesting or even applying olive oil to the their temples if they feel a headache coming on, will relieve the pain.
  • While most food products require you to check an expiration date, olive oil actually depends more on the “Pressed Date”.  The sooner the date to when you’re purchasing, the better.  Once olive oil is pressed, those Polyphenols and its benefits goes significantly down. Rule of thumb? Check that Pressed On date, and buy one that was not too long ago.

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Wines to taste, too!

Wines to taste, too!

 

  • Extra Virgin is always the best. Another fun test to see about the oil’s freshness is: Take a small swig of the oil. If it gives you a slight burning sensation,  that usually indicates a fresh Extra Virgin olive oil.
  • Olive oil is best enjoyed, in the perfect world, within 4 hours of it being pressed. (I doubt that has yet to happen in my life yet).
  • You also may notice it should not be particularly, well, oil-y. Fresh olive oil should go down more like a juice.
  • While I’m a fan of infused olive oils, unless you are at a trusted source like Del’Oliva, many brands use infusion oils as a selling point to hide an older, inadequate olive oil.

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  • And, as far as balsamic vinegar, did you know unless it has a European certification, that all balsamic vinegar you’re buying in the supermarket are most likely imposters? Think of it like Champagne; only the real deal comes from France. When I grab a bottle at the pharmacy, it’s a “California Sparkling Wine”. 😉

Along with their gorgeous store, Del’Oliva ships throughout the USA, too. What a great place to shop for the foodies on your list, no?!

I am also excited that Del’Oliva is my kick off for my annual #AVeryMaryChristmas series of posts this month! The series this year will include holiday gift ideas, things to do to celebrate the season…ansd, maybe a giveaway…or afew 😉 Kicking off today, I have a mini bottle of Del’Oliva’s Red Apple Balsamic Vinegar to send to one lucky winner. Make sure to check out my sweepstakes tabs for all rules, and enter using the form below by December 11th. Good luck!

And, in the meantime, visit Del’Oliva at their website HERE.

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5 Goals to Help Launch Your Blog (And #CyberMonday Offer!) #SocialMediaMonday

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Happy Cyber Monday meets Social Media Monday! November has been filled with some very fortunate opportunities that have come my way. Earlier in the month, I headed down to Coronado, California to host a beginner’s workshop to social media at The IFWTWA Conference (The International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association). While I was extremely honored and humbled (Did I mention, a little terrified??) to share my two cents on social media, I am still absorbing all of the fascinating information and knowledge gained at the annual event.

Following IFWTWA, I next headed over to Sherman Oaks to chat with the lovely LA based “Mompreneurs” of Playdate Connection about the benefits of launching a blog for your small business.

Something that’s been at the forefront for me is being asked Where do I begin to start my blog? So, I decided to share with you 5 goals to keep in mind when beginning your blogging journey.

**Read to the end of the article for a special CYBER MONDAY DEAL, too!**

DECIDE ON YOUR BLOG’S NAME

Easily the most difficult part for me when I started blogging, selecting a name you cannot change is no easy task. Sure, you can re-create your page, but, do you really want to get a flow going then up and re-brand, as you’re establishing a community? So, think a bit about the title for your website. Do you want it to simply be your name? Do you want it to reflect the genre you’re covering? The sky is the limit and its important to not only love the name you decide on, but also ensuring it is something catchy to grab one’s attention.

Why am I Along Comes Mary? I knew I wanted my blog to reflect my adventures, yet I also dreamed of being a music blogger. Drawing inspiration from The Association’s hit single of the same name, I knew that could easily make my page very music-friendly. Yet, there was space there to grow as I decided my niche was more in the Travel field.

And, before you have your heart set on a name and URL, make sure the domain is available!

PICK 10 DREAM CLIENTS TO WORK WITH

No matter what subjects you want your blog to be about, I am sure we ALL have those dream people to collaborate with. If you’re a foodie blogger looking to partner with food brands, think of 5-10 ideal companies you would love to have on your blog. If you’re a writer looking to share your short stories, think of a handful of authors you would love to interview on your blog or get feedback from. Having some role models in mind could mean a sponsored post, a product review, affiliate program. Think of those “dream” posts and work towards a goal.

ARE YOU LOOKING TO MONETIZE? BUY YOUR DOMAIN & HOST

I began on the free WordPress platform. My old URL included .wordpress.com and I had to oblige to the rules of WordPress. When you are not self-hosted, you cannot safely post giveaways and/or any sponsored content on your page as WordPress has the right to shut down your page. You own nothing and can lose all of your work.

GET ON TWITTER

When asked what my favorite platform is, it is always Twitter. Fast and simple, to the point, Twitter is the inventor of the #Hashtag yet is also an astounding communicating tool. Everyone from Astro Physicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, to our President-Elect, know how to utilize Twitter and get their community’s attention. You can easily tweet to that company or person you want on your blog, and begin a relationship. Many brands and celebrities manage their Twitter pages effectively and will pay attention if you’re a devoted tweet-er.

STAY ACTIVE

This one is hard for me to swallow. I am about to tell you the importance of staying active on both your blog and platforms, while this is my first post in nearly 3 weeks. When life gets insane, I at-least stay very active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  You can also schedule posts for your Facebook page on the page itself, as well as try out scheduling websites like Hootsuite. With Hootsuite, you simply load in your tweets and posts, designate when you want them to go live and bam, you’re good to go for a week.

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As some of you know, I offer social media consulting as well as complete management of your accounts. For Cyber Monday, I would like to offer you any service at $100 off through December 10th! Simply send me an email at alongcomesmary26@gmail.com to get started.  Not sure what exactly you need? Maybe just some crash courses? No matter what your social media goals are, I would love to help bring them to fruition. I hope to hear from you soon, and Happy Monday shopping! xo

 

A Day at The Huntsville Botanical Gardens. #TravelTuesday

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On our fantastic trip to Memphis last month, I admit that our following destination was not thrilling me as much as arriving to Tennessee did. Next up, we headed to Alabama. I was THAT person that believed there must be NOTHING to do in Alabama. Well, folks, if my post on all my gluten-free finds while there is any indication of just how wrong I was, events and sights to see are also in there, too.

Little did I know that I would spend a gorgeous afternoon at a railroad station, have delicious sushi and see a movie at one of those 21+ theaters and even get my Target shopping fix in (Just like home!). One of my favorite outings we had in Huntsville, though? A trip to their Botanical Gardens.

Bringing to mind The Huntington Library or Descanso Gardens here in LA,  these gardens rest on 112 acres and are the absolute playgrounds for kids young and old alike.

When we arrived, one of the first stops is The Hobbit House! A home easily under 3 feet tall, this Lord of the Rings-esque bungalow is the gateway of what is to come and just how FUN the botanical gardens are…..

THE FAERIE GARDEN

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As someone who loves mythical subjects (and collects garden gnomes), I truly could have moved into this land in the gardens! The majestic trees each have small doors on their bottom, while the small house (I could just about fit in there) has its trusty homeowner gnome at the ready to give you a warm welcome, and there are countless bird feeders and trays for both the critters and the faeries to munch on.

This is an ideal area of the gardens for a fun, faerie tea party photo shoot, or for your little ones as everything will be their size!

SNOOPY’S DOG HOUSE

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Now, this was a surprise to stumble upon! Near the playground and picnic tables, you will come up on a giant size red dog house and large bones. It becomes clear as soon as you see the Peanuts characters on the house, that this is none other than ol’ Chuck’s BFF, Snoopy.

Since The Great Pumpkin just had his big night, soon Charlie Brown will be learning the true meaning of Christmas from Linus. Making it such a great time to pay a visit and snap some holiday pictures, no?

THE CHILDREN’S GARDEN

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To me, the entire grounds of Huntsville Botanical Gardens is one big Children’s Garden! But, they’re pretty cool and have a designated garden for the young and young at heart. Remember when we started at The Hobbits House? In this garden, most decor is gigantic and you can even go down the yellow brick road……oh, yeah.

When you first arrive in the Children’s Garden (Which is actually more like EIGHT gardens in one), you can stand in an actual Space Station node….and play with Lego’s in there, too! Then, you can play in mazes and get your picture with an awesome wooden statue of Mr. Rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland).

THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

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While The Butterfly House has now closed for the season (Until May), I was eager to see Huntsville’s exhibit after my amazing experience at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens butterflies in Claremont earlier this year.  Much like entering a greenhouse, this pavilion boasts a beautiful, intimate lake with exquisite flowers and orchids. All while the butterflies flutter around. While I appreciated its more ample size, I still appreciate that Claremont’s butterfly exhibit had an extremely knowledgeable staff inside with you to answer questions and teach you more about each of these stunning creatures.

GALAXY OF LIGHTS AND WEDDINGS, TOO…..

The gardens always have something great planned for each season. While there is bird watching and garden activities to explore, through December they will be hosting The Galaxy of Lights which brings to mind The LA Zoo Festival of Lights; a larger than life event, walk (or drive!) through the gardens to see animated, lit up displays as well as the popular icicle village!

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

This made me miss LA!

This made me miss LA!

The coolest thing? Select nights will be a walking tour, while others, driving AND, select nights will invite you to bring your dog along, as well! Get all the info HERE.

This was such a great visit, and I already look forward to returning again. If you’ll be in the Huntsville area, make sure to plan your visit HERE! xo

Staying at Dinah’s Garden Hotel in Palo Alto, CA

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Sometimes, don’t you find that lodging while away can be a bit, repetitive? Check in, acceptable room with the basics that you will need. Many times, we travel just to see the sights, and don’t necessarily mind if our accommodations are nothing to write home about.

That is why, I have a rule at Along Comes Mary to only tell you about the hotels that are daring to be different. To make you savor your time in your temporary bedroom, admire the art work, and feel like you are staying somewhere with great history.

Dinah’s Garden Hotel of Palo Alto is one of these unique locations. In the  1950’s, we were at the height of Americana and a legion of”motor touring.” motels, were popping up along all the highways. Dinah’s owner Raymond Handley and his partners were not interested in building another cheap “in and out” style motel along a highway. Rather they set out to create a truly unique lodging experience that would offer an “oasis of serenity and peaceful hospitality to every class of traveler”, says their website.

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A koi fish pond awaits you at Dinah’s, too.

And, that they certainly did. It also didn’t hurt that Handley and his wife, Milla Louise, were avid art and antique collectors. Dozens of their pieces are right within the rooms and guest cottages of Dinah’s.. You can find everything from a pair of 19th century life-size Indian processional elephants at the entrance of the hotel to my favorite piece seen: a 2nd century A.D. Gandharan stone Buddha in the lagoon area. Surrounded by the sounds of the waterfall and lake, this tranquil lagoon is one of the examples of how Dinah’s was conceived to take you away from the hustle and bustle just moments away.

You will find genuine, unusual works of art throughout the hotel and gardens. Check out this wooden bench!

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While Dinah’s made it hard for me to want to leave my room (Great view from my patio), my presence was requested at a fabulous drinks and appetizer soiree at the pool that gave visitors a chance to relax, mingle and hear some great live music while taking a swim in the pool or munching on some delicious small bites and wine.

You probably have a good guess what I enjoyed partaking in. Fess Parker Syrah and Morgan Wines Pinot were on hand, and I can never resist a Parker varietal.

After an incredible peaceful rest, I awoke eager to try something Dinah’s Pool Side Restaurant is known for: their orange juice. Fresh squeezed daily, this glass was another perfect example of just why San Mateo County prides itself on being as “Fresh As it Gets”. I have had some great OJ in my day, but, I can see why this is their go-to favorite beverage. Even the color was more, well, “orange” than usual.

Breakfast of Champions at Dinah's Pool Side restaurant.

Breakfast of Champions at Dinah’s Pool Side restaurant.

Having continually been named “Best Hotel in Palo Alto”, Dinah’s is an ideal location for those passing through, visiting students of Stanford (or maybe you are a potential student) or, even a great alternative to staying in San Francisco or San Jose. So much is at your fingertips in San Mateo County, and Palo Alto is one of the gateways.

I cannot thank Dinah’s enough for my wonderful, hosted stay. Visit them HERE and book your trip now! xo

Visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy….

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Confession time: While its pretty clear that I adore dogs, another furry friend close to my heart are GOATS. Easily my #1 favorite barn yard animal, many think they will get kicked in the behind if they even glance at a goat-ee (my nickname for them). In reality? They can be some of the sweetest animals around, as well as producing some awfully delicious milk often used for incredible cheese. What is not to love?

On my press trip to experience as “Fresh As it Gets” in San Mateo County (right outside of San Francisco), I was delighted to spend a morning in Pescadero where we headed to the historic Harley Farms Goat Dairy. With humble beginnings over 100 years ago as a dairy farm, Dee Harley purchased the farm over 20 years ago, and, thus Harley Farms Goat Dairy was born!

Arriving onto the farm, not only did I feel as if I had died and discovered a goat heaven existed, but I was interested as to HOW Dee and her family have managed to be raising over 200 goats on their farm?! It turns out that by a chance meeting with Nancy Gaffney, is how the farm had its re-birth. Gaffney had a herd of about sixty goats in Davenport. Seeing the available pasture, Nancy asked if Dee would overwinter six goats. A few years later, this herd grew to include all of Nancy’s goats, and after some lessons in how to make cheese, Gaffney retired from the goat trade.As their website says, “It was the perfect ending for her, and the beginning of Harley Farms.”

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Photo: Lisa Richardson.

Harley Farms has become the known spot tin San Mateo County for all of your gourmet goat cheese needs as well as milk and, coming soon, an aged cheese. I had the pleasure of experiencing some of these award winning cheeses paired with local and fresh strawberries. Let me just say: I still can taste how flavorful it was.

Another awesome touch? Their own line of Bath and Body products, with goat milk as the main ingredient! What better a place to shop in San Mateo County than Harley Farms. Their gift shop has several bits and baubles and ensures you can shop for everyone on your list this season.

Along with hundreds of goats (and even some kitties) on sight, Harley Farms offers group tours to get up close and personal with their main stars as well as the opportunity to see how fresh and delicious their food is with monthly dinners hosted upstairs in their barn (with a view to boot). While group tours will fill up by their date, the dinners sell out almost instantly so keep an eye on ones planned for the new year if you’re interested in this unique dining evening.

Something I have been asked is: Didn’t the goats bite?! And my answer is….absolutely not. While it is advised you do not bring anything in with you, and maybe take off any scarves/jackets, these goats were the absolute sweetest, and very acquainted to socializing with adoring fans. I cannot wait to return!

Next time you find yourself in The California Bay Area, make sure to say hi and buy some cheese at Harley Goat Farms! xo

Visiting Graceland for the First Time.

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Who doesn’t love Elvis Presley? I grew up watching this pop idol turned legend with my Grandma in his classic films like Girls Girls Girls, Fun in Acapulco and Change of Habit. When we weren’t watching his teenybopper movies, I was maybe listening to him on “My First Sony” boom box.

A bucket list item has always been to visit his Graceland mansion. I remember watching Full House and being intrigued when Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) said he wanted to be married there. When I found out we would be heading to The South, I was thrilled to be invited for a day at Graceland in Memphis!

Pulling into the Graceland entrance ($10 parking, FYI), it was more “theme park” vibes than a musical legend’s home. Adjacent to their ample parking lot, they’re remodeling and soon unveiling a brand new hotel.

Heading into the lobby, prepared to be overwhelmed with EVERYTHING a “hunka hunka burning love”. This is a shrine to The King! We proceeded to grab our tickets. We had The Entourage Tour that featured a multimedia iPad tour of Graceland Mansion and grounds, Graceland Archives Experience, self-guided tour of Elvis’ two custom airplanes, self-guided tours of Elvis’ Automobile Museum, The’ Tupelo Exhibit at Graceland Crossing, as well as Elvis in Hawaii: Concerts, Movies and More, at The Crossing.

Living room

Living room

All tour options include the main attraction (and what I was most excited to see): the mansion. Yes, friends–it’s as stunning as you  can imagine. It is also a bit overwhelming, and for that I am glad that the tour is self-guided to go at your own pace.

As you walk through Presley’s home and see such heirlooms as his furniture, instruments and the china filled dining table his daughter,  Lisa Marie, and her family still enjoy when they visit, the beauty has no parallel.

Built in 1939 and named after a relative named Grace, Presley bought this 500 acres of land in 1957 from The Toof Family at the ripe age of 22. While it doesn’t scream “Neverland”, it certainly has some unusual, odd decor. There was “The Conga Room”, with its 70’s classic “green” carpet not only on the floor, but, wait for it– on the walls! As well as another unique room with bright, neon decor and a statue of a white monkey (Below. This is when I thought of Neverland).

Parents bedroom

Parents bedroom

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A devoted family man, one of Elvis’ biggest dreams was to take care of his parents. Growing up in the humble town of Tupelo, Mississippi, The Presley’s struggled to keep food on the table and nothing made Presley more proud, than rewarding his parents with living at Graceland. We got to take a peek at Mr. and Mrs. Presley’s room. It looked just like it did in the 1960’s.

If you want to see nearly every single gold record of Elvis Presley’s, as well as movie posters and memorabilia, Graceland will not disappoint. Entering his room of records and achievements was a startling reminder at why this man has been hailed, time and time again, as The King.

You will also get to visit his Vegas room. Presley was the pioneer of entertainment in Las Vegas and after the success of his short run,  was one of the first to pave the way for a residency show in Sin City.

Lisa Marie's swing set.

Lisa Marie’s swing set.

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As you continue through the tour, you will eventually wind up outside and get to see some of the most beautiful gardens and landscaping ever. I was not expecting to be taken aback at the roses and trees that adorn the back yards of Graceland.

As you make your way past the pool, we enter some very sobering territory. Elvis, as well as his twin brother, Aaron, and his parents, are buried on the grounds and fans flock for a picture of The King’s grave.

Something I loved hearing on our audio tour were words from Presley’s only child, Lisa Marie. Speaking so highly of her Dad, she insists she just knew him as “Dad” and not the super star. She also discusses just how KIND Elvis was. “We all come from the same God, and we need to take care of each other” Presley himself once said. If you were a local in need, or one of the many charities he supported, Presley was always quick to share his fortunes with others.

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Seeing many of the entertaining rooms (kitchen, Conga Room, pool room), it looks very clear that The Presley’s loved to surround themselves with friends, family and great people for some laughs, drinks….maybe a banana peanut butter sandwich?

With many new improvements to The Graceland tour, one of their best moves has got to be their audio tour guide. It S indeed, no other than Uncle Jesse himself, John Stamos! While no references are made to his alter-ego’s love for Presley, you definitely feel like a pro is leading you around the legend’s home (even if you did not know the Full House connection).

With so many more stops to see, we were glad we got a fairly early start to Graceland. Touring the mansion easily can be enjoyed for 2 hours, or, more, if you enjoy reading every little tid bit and checking out those suits and records. If you have little ones in tow, the Graceland staff is very accommodating to help you get strollers down or up stairs or taking it outside for you should the space be narrow (A few parts of the home have very tiny stairwells) .

Tip: They like you to snap your pictures after the tour, and before you line back up for the shuttle.

Tip: They like you to snap your pictures after the tour, and before you line back up for the shuttle.

If you need ADA/Wheelchair accessibility, you’ll be happy to hear that Graceland is accessible except for the 2 basement rooms (with that tiny staircase) and the airplanes.

With so much more to see and share, I will be doing a Graceland part 2 article all about my experience seeing his automobiles and trains. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out their website HERE to start planning your own visit. You will not be disappointed. xo

(Disclosure: A huge thank you to Graceland for providing me with media credentials to support this article. All opinions are my own.)

Southern Hospitality and Plenty of Gluten Free in The South!

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I have been so fortunate to take some pretty awesome trips recently, and, you know what has been the icing on the cake (sometimes, literally)? The abundance of GLUTEN FREE options I have come across at most of my stops!

We just got back from a gorgeous Fall trip to the south. With stops in Memphis and Huntsville, I admit I was a little skeptical for this trek. I had images of the south being lots of fields and not much to do. Boy, was I wrong! Not only is Memphis quite the metropolitan city, and Huntsville combines the small town life with plenty for the family to do, but, nearly all restaurants we dined at had gluten-free menus!

After our day at The Memphis Zoo (I don’t know where to start at telling you about this amazing zoo and aquarium), we were famished and I encouraged Michael to pick where he would like to go. I knew he had one thing on the brain: Southern BBQ! We all know this was not a thrill for me, but, seeing him so happy made me happy 😉

Central BBQ is a small local chain with many awards under their belt for “Best Ribs” and “Best BBQ.” Its a fast casual diner with a small dining room of tables and chairs, and lots of room on their patio to enjoy  their smoked delights.

What. Will. I. Order. Here? Were my main thoughts. I figured people in the south are all about the BBQ and fried foods, I bet they won’t know what gluten-free is! were my ignorant thoughts.

Well, folks–I was pleasantly proven wrong! The cashier was super helpful and when she realized I was attempting to order my Portobello Mushroom Sandwich without as bun due to my gluten issues, she showed me their gluten-free and allergen menu! Granted, the only dishes that could be prepped gluten-free were the meat items. I went ahead and tried the mushroom sandwich without the bread….or, the sauce….or the slaw. These were indicated as not safe on their specialty menu. I got a sad but humongous smoked and BBQ mushroom with a slab of amazingly smoked Gouda cheese on top. I piled up on the french fries much more, but, I know Central sandwiches must be delicious.

It was Michael approved and I did end up with a southern souvenir! 😉

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On Saturday, we were in Huntsville, Alabama and headed out for lunch. When we pulled up at Jason’s Deli, once again, gluten-free anxiety attack going on here. A sandwich shop?!!?? I never go to deli’s! They’ve got bread in there!

And, guess what? The southern folks really had my back. Jason’s Deli proudly offers Udi’s Bread for those with gluten concerns and even a display of their Snickerdoodle cookies. I chose their Caprese Panini along with baked chips. I was mistaken and thought the chips were baked in-house. I inquired if they are also gluten-free, and they searched the entire back to check on this for me. When I discovered its their tortilla chips made in-house and the chips are simply Lay’s, I felt so bad for sending them on that goose chase (Lays are gluten-free).

The Caprese was spot on. It rivaled my usual I get in Santa Monica. Before it was ready, the cashier found me to alert me that my bread would be cross contaminated in the toaster, would I prefer the oven which is safe? I opted for that and loved every bit of it. Jason’s Deli is my go-to from now on when in Alabama!

For a fun date night and on the town in Huntsville, we headed to a local favorite, I Love Sushi. Once again, I was prepared for taking a risk but at-least having my gluten-free soy sauce bottle in tow. The menu at I Love Sushi was filled with “GF” symbols and GF soy sauce.  See a pattern here?! We shared a bunch of savory, delicious rolls and a highlight for me was The Tropical as it had mango on it. It sounded like a great idea, yet, I did not get much of the tropical taste I had hoped for. I did heart the Philly Roll. It had a great balance of cream to the fresh salmon.

Gluten free Red Velvet Cake. Photo: Mason Dixon's website

Gluten free Red Velvet Cake. Photo: Mason Dixon’s website

Did I mention its my birthday month? I happen to share my birthday with our friends son, Ryan (he calls us “Birthday Buddies”) and we decided to have an early celebration on our trip with a gluten-free cake from Mason Dixon.

Mason Dixon is proudly the only gluten-free dedicated bakery in Alabama. They also can make dishes vegan, too! I was surprised with a Rammer Jammer cake. When I first saw it on the table, I thought it looked yummy and the kids would be lucky to be enjoying that. When I realized it was gluten-free, I could not WAIT to try this baby!

Let me tell you, it was sweet as hell. You could easily share this cake with 6 or more guests as a small slab is aplenty. The cake was moist and filled with flavor, but, what really made it was the cream cheese frosting. If I were handed a bowl of this, we’d be in trouble.

On top of these wonderful eateries, you’ll be happy to know that all of the local stores have a gluten-free selection. From Target to Walmart and Publix, all my favorites were there.

Well done, Alabama and Tennessee. Well done!

Weekend Getaway on a Budget to Chico, California! #TravelTuesday

At Chico State.

At Chico State.

While I am a City Girl, I could easily see myself retiring (or just moving if the chance came) to Chico, California. A college town loaded with laid back vibes, warm Summer nights and a strong community bond, Chico lays just under two hours out of Sacramento, and is your gateway to Mount Shasta and Redding (home of Turtle Bay and The Sundial Bridge).

Having visited a couple of times to see one of my best friends and her family, Chico is the kind of town with Farmer’s Markets throughout the week, live music in the park and locally grown fruits and vegetables. I love being surrounded by so much nature, and the opportunity to take a hike in Bidwell Park in the morning, then swim in one of the local lakes by the afternoon.

If you are in search of a fun and affordable California road trip, stopping in Chico just might be for you!

Dinner and drinks at Tres Hombres.

Dinner and drinks at Tres Hombres.

EAT

If you want the ultimate Mexican cocktail, head on over to Tres Hombres on Broadway Street. A secret menu item, their Avocado Margarita will have you drinking like a real 530 local. If just Mexican food is what’s more on your mind, Tres is a locals favorite. Just be warned: Their drinks sneak up on you!

For breakfast, the place to go is Morning Thunder Cafe. With massive, share-able portions, you can imagine my excitement that this Mom and Pop’s “greasy spoon” offers many gluten-free dishes, including gluten-free pancakes AND toast! I had their Vegetarian Omelette and, as usual….was a bit skeptical of cream cheese inside the entrée. This would be along with avocado atop, too (I know–I get excited to order avocado anything). I decided to not omit it and was happy I did not. Strange at first, but, went very well with the avocado and veggies.

While my meal was delicious, Eric, Ariel’s fiance, had a less than happy experience and was unsatisfied with his dish. The staff offered to change out his breakfast and while he declined, they did not charge us for his plate.

They also offer original and French Roast coffee. Mmmm…..

Morning Thunder is perfect for families and everyone in between!

Breakfast at Morning Thunder.

Breakfast at Morning Thunder.

And, we all know I can devour a pizza, and luckily Chico has one of my favorite pizza parlors. Woodstock Pizza always makes me think of “college life” as fellow student-ville San Luis Obispo has a location on their main drag, as well. Even Ariel did not think this pie “tasted” like it was gluten-free. Get there before you’re too hungry, though: As they get busy.

PLAY

If you’re wondering why I said Chico is ‘affordable’, their outdoor activities (especially in the Summer) are mostly free or affordable. Making it the perfect NorCal getaway for the camping loving family or the couple looking to bike around town and find some new hiking trails.

Bidwell Park

This 3,670-acre municipal park encompasses both sides of Big Chico Creek Canyon for a full five miles up into the foothills, making it a truly unique and spectacular retreat. There’s really no park like Bidwell anywhere else. The Lower Park gives you the option of swimming in ether the pool or one of the lakes, or head upward and hit their trails. I could spend every day of Summer here!

On their website, they list a total of 17 different trails from minor, easy trails to 10 mile and elaborate hikes. I like a challenge 😉

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Paradise Lake.

In nearby Paradise (which feels a bit like the real thing to me, but, Ariel says it’s a play on words. Paradise used to be known for its gambling and casino community….get it, “Pair of Dice”??) spend the day fishing or reading a book at Paradise Lake in Magalia. Perfect for dogs, too!

Back on Broadway Street in Chico, no stop is complete without a visit to The National Yo Yo Museum. Yes, there is a National Yo Yo Museum, and its in Chico! You will easily see the most yo yo’s in your life. Plenty to buy, play with and even the largest anywhere. It’s about 5 feet tall!

If you are a BEER lover, Chico truly is for you. Sierra Nevada Brewery calls Chico home. While I have not visited the brewery, they do offer daily tours! Get more info HERE.

STAY

After countless adventures of food, hikes, water, bikes, beers and yo yo’s (Oh my!), head back to relax and freshen up at nearby Motel 6. Motel 6 is an oldie but a goody. Less than 3 miles from Chico State University, Motel 6 completes keeping this NorCal trip on a budget. Most rooms are under $100 a night, and boasts all the amenities you have come to expect when traveling.

My 1st Dutch Brothers coffee!

My 1st Dutch Brothers coffee!

GET YOUR COFFEE FIX….

Something in Northern California that is much like SoCal’s In ‘n Out Burger is Dutch Brothers Coffee. Having heard of this widely popular drive thru only coffee-house, Dutch Brothers has really made their fan base with remembering the ol’ reliable: Great customer service. The barista’s are FUN and were just as excited as I was that it was my first visit!  They gave me a frequent stamper card that just needed 1 more for a free drink. When I returned to use my card at the Paradise location, Kyle could not have been more sweet and gave us both our drinks for free!

And, was my iced triple shot latte as awesome as the people? Absolutely!

I could go on all day about Chico and its surrounding areas. Let me know if you get the chance to visit! xo

 

 

Grocery Outlet Knocks 20% more off ALL Cereals & Giveaway ends 10/14!

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(*Special thanks to Grocery Outlet for helping feed my shopping addiction and sponsoring today’s chat!)

I am ALL about frugal shopping. Whether its staying under a $100 budget at the holidays, or, when I am baking cupcakes for a get together, I always start out at the discount stores. Lately? I have been obsessed with Grocery Outlet.

Funnily enough, Grocery Outlet was never on my radar until Ariel (Remember my NorCal friend?!) showed me her adorable bobble heads of The Grocery Outlet “Frugal Friends”; There’s Lois Prices, Ben Saven (Get it?!!?) and other hilarious mascots of the bargain market chain. How could I resist seeing what Grocery Outlet was all about, when they had such adorable team members?!

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Since then, I have become rather addicted to cruising the aisles of Grocery Outlet and VERY pleased with the variety of goodies available. Recently, I ran to another  store and bought the usual necessities I get at Grocery Outlet….then, was floored at how much more money I spent! Michael and I are big cereal people….and complete opposites. While he grabs Cap’n Crunch, I am looking for the Rice Chex (or the Chocolate Chex for Muddie Buddies–Mmmm).

Because of our different faves, we had made a rule to switch off our selections, since cereal is not usually cheap. Then? I started bringing us home EACH our own box once I went to Grocery Outlet. Yes, folks–this is how awesome Grocery Outlet is! They’re usually 40-60% off the average price at the competitor markets.

 

Does your family love Star Wars? Can't beat 99 cents!

Does your family love Star Wars? Can’t beat 99 cents!

I was so excited when I found out that now through October 11th, they have knocked the cereal prices down to an extra 20%. This is up to 80% off over 50 cereals.

Grocery Outlet was kind enough to offer a reader of mine a $50 gift card to help you experience the bargain market for yourself AND create your own cereal recipe. Whether it be Rice Krispy treats, a cereal lover’s pie or the Chex Muddie Buddies, I wanna know what your recipe would be with cereals!

Enter using the form below before October 14th, 2016. Good luck and I’ll see you at Grocery Outlet! 🙂

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

(*Winner will be selected at random. Giveaway open to legal residents of the USA 18 and over. One entry per email. Sponsor will provide gift card to winner. No purchase necessary.)

 

 

 

 

A Wine Walk in San Carlos, California. #WineWednesday

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Have you ever been to San Carlos, California? I will admit, I had not even heard of this fun, contemporary town until my “Fresh As it Gets” media tour in San Mateo County last month. Located right in the middle between The San Francisco Peninsula and San Jose, San Carlos is a humble community of about 30,000 and, as of late, is building up their name in a little industry called…..WINE.

I was a bit surprised, and very intrigued, to find out that our wine and beer walk with my IFWTWA peeps would take us to the streets of San Carlos to experience their wineries and brewery.

Beginning our journey on Washington Street, we arrived at Cuvee Wines and I must say, I was immediately a fan as their modern, loud colors to their couches and decor was very Mary approved….

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I always appreciate the clever use of displaying barrels……so inviting, no?!

Cuvee has built their following with releasing several Bordeaux inspired wines that do bring to mind what we love about the French reds, while you can also appreciate the California roots brought to you from Cuvee owner, Paul Rogerville.

Starting out with a Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, I chose this white as it was produced in stainless steel, and, I have found that repeatedly is my jam. This was an interesting glass since on first nose it had stronger, vibrant notes; especially of lemon and tropical fruits. On my first sip? Much more mellow, a bit too light for my taste, even.

Realizing I was in the mood for something more on the bold side, I gravitated towards a ’11 Merlot. It made me absolutely CRAVE a great pizza. This Merlot had jam and preserve notes after a swirl and sniff, then, downright pungent notes of cheese on the palette, with some subtle pepper-y moments. It was a heavenly red!

While I thought that was THE red for me that day, and it would be hard to find another favorite….who was I kidding? We were only at stop #1 and now on our way to visit Russian Ridge Winery. An adorable “Hole in the wall” style winery, The Townsend Family opened up shop on Washington Street in 2011 and have been producing around 1,000 cases of wine a year ever since.

Spencer, Joan and Dwayne Townsend.

Spencer, Joan and Scott Townsend.

The Russian Ridge’s 2012 Concerto quickly took over my heart. A Cabernet dominant red blend of the 5 Bordeaux varietals, this blend made me feel at home. Bold? Yes. Huge? Nope. Just right. Good, full-bodied, yet great even if you’re not in search of a particularly bold glass. The addition of Merlot to even out the tannin’s is brilliant, and leaves you with a slight spiciness, and some fruit.

The Townsend’s truly know how to make their customers feel at home and usually you will always have at-least 2 of the family members on hand to answer any wine-y questions you may have, or keep you in the loop on the latest San Carlos skinny.

Next up we headed to the adorable and family friendly Flying Suitcases Wines. I cannot think of a better winery for a group of travel writers to visit! Flying Suitcases is all about celebrating life and adventure. With bright, air-y colors to their walls, and travel quotes to go with their Hans Christian Anderson inspired name, Owner Vikki Vinther and her husband came to San Mateo from Denmark and decided to open a winery that would be perfect for people like themselves: Parents!

While mom and/or Dad can sit back and relax with a glass of their Nostalgia (Chardonnay) or Wanderlust (Zinfandel…did I mention all their labels have fun names?!) the kids can check out their play room with plenty of books and toys to keep them busy.

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Adults and kids alike love the paintings at Flying Suitcases

After so many great wines, we decided to change things up a little and head to Devil’s Canyon Brewery. I was so impressed with the size of this brewery. Gotta love its humble beginnings as a warehouse! Boasting a stage that makes it a great concert venue, Devil’s Canyon also has access to a handy alley way that has become the Friday go-to in San Carlos to catch a food truck or two!

While most wineries in town are only open on weekends, Devil’s Canyon is open solely on Fridays while the other six days a week are reserved for crafting and brewing their award-winning beers. While you can’t grab a cold one too often at the brewery, not to fear: Devil’s Canyon beers are the ales of choice in San Mateo County and distributed locally! 😉

Are you still with me?! We’ve got one more awesome spot to go! After we said our goodbye’s at the brewery, we took a quick stroll over to Domenico Winery. From their website:

Dominick and Gloria Chirichillo’s choice of name for their winery is a reflection of their commitment to their Italian heritage and the tradition of family winemaking. Dominick (Domenico in Italian) was introduced to these traditions by his Nonno (grandfather), Domenico Giovinazzo in New York in 1955. In the basement of their home was a wine-press that Nonno showed Dominick, passing down from one generation to another the love of handcrafting wine. For the love of his Italian heritage, Dominick specializes in Cal-Italia varietals; Primitivo, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Barbera, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Nero d’Avola and Sagrantino. Domenico currently produces more than 20 varietals.

Dominick’s passion for wine making took him from amateur competitions while he lived on the East Coast, to commercial status after moving to Northern California. Moving to California has enabled Dominick to choose his grapes hands-on from selected vineyards in Napa Valley, Sonoma’s Central Coast, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Amador County and the Lodi District. In 2001 Dominick established his own vineyards in Amador County, where he planted 5 acres of Syrah and 3 acres of Primitivo that go into his award-winning, hand-crafted wines. Additionally, he is a member of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, where he sources Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. As of 2016, the wines of Domenico have won 350 Medals for wines produced from these various regions!

Like Devil’s Canyon, Domenico got its start as an “Ugly, empty warehouse” (Chirichillo’s words) and can easily hold a party or event in a unique, dimly lit setting as you enjoy your award-winning vino’s.

We were also treated to a fun tour of where he magic happens and the wines are made, as well as chatting with one of Domenico’s team members, Matt Hall, while he literally made wine!

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Yes, I may have tried this straight from the bin!

Yes, I may have tried this straight from the bin!

If you find yourself up in Northern California, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to some or all of these wonderful bars. Its a labor of love and you can truly taste it in every glass! Huge thank you to all of the above San Carlos establishments who made this day possible. xo

 

Choosing Social Media Platforms Wisely. #SocialMediaMonday

market-your-product-using-social-media-platforms

Something I often encounter when collaborating with clients who are new to social media is the idea that they need to be on all of the networks. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, Snapchat, Google Plus, Tumblr, even Meetup. While I do have accounts with all of them for blog purposes, that doesn’t mean I am very active on each account.

Ask any of my followers, and I bet they would vote between Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that I mostly use for Along Comes Mary. Twitter is hands down my favorite to interact with friends and readers, share what I am up to, support others by retweeting their tweets and so on. Instagram….whats not to love? As someone who takes a lot of photos of my dogs, I have to be careful not to post on there throughout the day (to utilize those filters, if anything). As far as Facebook, I probably only post 3 times a day tops on my blog page. While my personal page, I sometimes will do more if its a busy week or we are on a fun trip, or there are too many good wine memes I see.

Since I have been asked what makes each of these platforms unique, I thought for Social Media Monday I would break down a few for you!

TWITTER

The birth of a hashtag was easily born with Twitter. Twitter enables its users to post 140 or less characters in their posts (But, coming soon, rumor is there will be no character limit on Twitter. I have mixed thoughts on that). You can “tag” users (Like my tweet below to Graceland) and by using popular hashtags, you will be apart of searches for said hashtags.

I think Twitter can be great for ANYONE, but, especially small businesses. Custom hashtags, giveaways, announcements, connections, are all great marketing tools available by using Twitter.

graceland

INSTAGRAM

Another platform that thrives on hashtags, Instagram has become quite the teacher’s pet since it got popular about 5 years ago. They do one thing, and they do it right: Your photography. While some may argue that Instagram has made us all think we are photographers, its a pretty great app and even better if photography is your trade.

Take a picture on your phone, or even in the Instagram app, frame it, select from 23 awesome cool, various filters, write your caption, throw in some hashtags (30 or less), and voila, you have a masterpiece. This would be perfect for a boutique, shop, medical office….ANYONE could really customize and make their Instagram page fun. Show off your employees, new stock in your store, or, if you’re like me, I love using mine to promote my blog posts. Like this:

ig

 

PINTEREST

I love the idea of Pinterest, but, personally? Its a bit more time consuming. But, when I use it more? I get great results back to my blog and traffic. Pinterest thrives on great pictures to “pin” onto a board on your account. If, say, you want to save a bunch of great “Gluten-Free Pancakes” recipes, you would put them onto that board. If you are a business that does not post original content or blog articles to your web-site, Pinterest may not be for you.

If you ARE a blogger, DIY-er or have great content to promote, Pinterest is awaiting for you. Most bloggers will tell you its their best source for traffic.

Snapchat, Stumble Upon, Linkedin–Say what?

I admit: I have become a Snapchat whore. I love this app that enables you to take a picture or video, add filters to it, send to “Your Story” for all to see, or just select certain friends, then, ut it goes for the world to see. Once they see it? Unless you save it, it goes bye bye bye forever. Anything you add to “My Story” automatically deletes in 24 hours, whether or not your followers have viewed it.

Stumble Upon has been uh-may-ZING for my traffic to Along Comes Mary. I simply add a link to my article, stumble it, stumble 50-100 pages of categorized content after and that increases my chance of more ‘stumblers’ seeing my content, going to my blog and then stumbling the page for more to see. It sounds time consuming, but its super simple and beneficial. I also utilize Stumble Upon for travel articles I add to the IFWTWA Facebook….or my own.

Linkedin has become far more than the professional’s Facebook. There are amazing groups, business pages and several ways to connect with colleagues and potential clients. Something I highly recommend is creating a business page on LinkedIn. Example: I am in the works to make a LinkedIn page for Along Comes Mary that I will be able to ‘tag’ on my Mary Lansing page so anyone interested to learn more about myself and my services can click from my personal page.

I hope this is helpful for you! As always, I am available for consulting and social media managing. Email me anytime at alongcomesmary26@gmail.com 🙂