Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | January 22, 2014

Trip to Deleware & Dogfish Head Brewery Visit

We’re pretty spoiled in the Tampa Bay area, as we have loads of breweries within a short ride of our home. I didn’t even drink beer before I moved to Tampa and it even caught my interest!

Maybe that is why visiting other breweries when we travel has become more of an interest for both Nick and I. (The fact that Nick is brewing beer at home also makes me curious about the process that is bubbling away in my guest bedroom.)

It was this interest that had us excited to make an excursion over to Deleware to quench our curiosity about a well-known brewery – Dogfish Head Brewery – when we were visiting Maryland over the holidays.

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Did you know that Dogfish Head is the 13th largest craft brewer? (Sam Adams is number one, believe it or not.)

Now, Delaware is not ridiculously far from where we were staying in Maryland, but it still required us to drive 2.5 hours since the brewery is right on the far east coast. And for those of you who have driven it before, you may be aware that Delaware is not the most exciting of roadways.

The drive was well worth it though.

It was a drab, cold and gray day when we went, so we didn’t wonder around the outside of the brewery very much. However, it was hard not to appreciate the largest eye-catcher upon our way up to the front…

Outside

It’s a tree-house!

Mind you, it’s a large, man-made, metal tree sculpture that supports it, but how cool is it? If you look really close on the left hand branches, you can see that they used part of a factory line (there are little boxes/hangers there), or something to create part of the tree.

Well, in case you were thinking it doesn’t get much cooler than a giant metal tree-house, you’re wrong! When we walked into the main entrance, we found ourselves standing between the tasting room and a small retail shop, and the decorations inside were just as creative and unexpected as the sculpture outside!

TastingRoomDecorEverything from strands of cotton ball snow seemingly falling out of the ceiling, to recycled beer bottles with festive branches and baubles as centerpieces, and a variety of hand-painted signs catch your attention when you walk. The signs in particular are fun and to the point.

Without thinking too much, we followed too direction from the “drink” and “tour” signs and headed to a stand where a young woman greeted us. Half the reason we wanted to visit the brewery was to take a tour (Nick had heard they gave pretty great tours) so we signed up for the first available slot (which turned out to be 3.5 hours away) and then accepted a sampling card.

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The greeter informed us that we could get four free tasting samples! (FOUR!)

I had Nick choose my four samples off the large chalk menu behind the tasting counter, since I’m not as knowledgeable about the different varieties of beer outside the familiar breweries in Tampa.

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I actually discovered some new favorites, including a stout (real shocker on that one since I thought I hated dark beers)!

We actually left at one point to get a bite to eat since the food truck they have on-site isn’t exactly what mostly non-meat eater could eat (think smoked meats – which smelled amazing).

By the time we got back though, it was tour time!

Our tour guide was actually the same girl that checked us in and she was incredible informative. I have to admit, I didn’t figure her for more than a scheduler, but she did a fantastic job not only explaining the history of the company, but also the subtleties in different brewing styles/techniques that had our whole group mesmerized (except a drunk woman who was having trouble standing/walking.

The tour lasted about an hour and started in a new section of the brewery (they’ve recently undergone an impressive expansion) and then it took us into the actual brewing section that included proprietary equipment (including a large barrel made out of some super unique wood from Brazil that no one else has ever used).

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It’s always amazing to see the machinery people have come up with for things like this…

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I felt very educated by the end of hour!

After we spent half the day at a brewery, we desperately needed a place to lay our heads (believe it or not). Nick found our hotel, so he gets all the credit, but it turned out to be super cute…

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Doesn’t that look charming? It is the Brick Hotel in the center of Georgetown, Delaware. Literally, it’s in the center of of the circle that is the historical downtown.

This was clearly an older building that has been restored/updated and it’s as cute on the inside as the outside, complete with cozy common areas…

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Please note the little single-cup coffee machine in the corner, that I proceeded to test out almost immediately to make a big cup of hot chocolate. Oh yes, that is what I call cozy.

We had a corner bedroom on the third floor, thus the sloped ceilings, but it was roomy and nicely stocked with complimentary little snacks and water! The view was also beautiful of the town center, and the single lights in the window, just made it feel so festive (it was the holidays after all).

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Even the bathroom was quite elegant, complete with a good size sink/vanity, snuggley robes (which I put on, of course) and towel warmers! Unfortunately, the towel warms were on so low, that they barely heated the towels. It was a cool thought though.

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Even though I didn’t get a picture of it, we did walk down to the little town center and wondered down the main street, which had a handful of stores and restaurants. I was mostly obsessed with our hotel though, and the cold sent us back to our room before too long.

It was a great trip to Delaware and one I hope to repeat sometime actually. I feel like there is a lot more we could have seen at both the brewery and around the Georgetown hotel, so we’ll probably head back when it’s a bit warmer out. Maybe a fall trip?

What winter trips have you taken?

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | January 8, 2014

More ‘adult’ goals for a new year

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Happy New Year!

The year 2013 treated me pretty well, no real complaints to speak of, but I’m always excited about a fresh new year. Plus, by January 2nd, my bank account always needs a breather and my stomach is usually crying out for a break from rich, sugary foods as well (unless they’re these little goodies, which are AMAZING).

I’m not a big fan of resolutions, as I’ve said before, but I do believe in goals. I set them throughout the year, but always see more support for them after the New Year. By that I mean, other people are frequently making resolutions that sometimes align with my goals and activities, which make it easier to stick with them.

This year, my goals are slightly different than in the past, as I feel they are more “adult” than those of previous years. I’m not just talking about health or fitness (which have turned into ongoing goals regardless).

My more adult goals are more focused on big projects in my life.

Goal #1: Get my new blog – A Dash of Sparkle – really running with quality posts, photos AND videos (yes, I am looking to break into the scary world of video).

I have been working on the concept – which is basically tips, lessons and the great things that I’ve personally found/learned to help balance a busy life with grace and a bit of sparkle (fun and ease) – for months. The design is still a bit in limbo, but I’ll be working to get the right photography and such to really make it my own.

I have even started a Facebook page for the blog so that people can easily stay updated on when new posts go up.

It’s a project I had been trying to figure out for probably the latter half of 2013, but it’s something I’m really excited about. This blog will remain as my personal blog, to chronicle my personal adventures and updates, but more helpful, content-focused posts will be appearing on the new blog - think recipes, lessons, tips, product reviews, DIYs and advice-type posts.

Goal #2: Get my finances and plans in order/set so that I can look to buy a house in 2015. This one is kind of HUGE for me. If you asked me a few years ago if I wanted to buy a house, I would have responded “HECK NO!” All that commitment to one area and a fear of being trapped with a mortgage just scared the daylights out of me.  Ah, but the times, they do change.

In a combination of contributing factors, I’ve finally reached a point where I’m just really over moving every year and want a place of my own. My parents are now in Florida, and I’m finally getting out from the debt that college and city-living put me in during my 20s.

Now, I’m not delusional in thinking I can buy a house in the area I currently live anytime soon. My neighborhood is super expensive and located in a flood-zone, so I’ll have to figure out what and where I can afford to buy. FIRST, however, I need to figure out my finances, set my budget and figure out how much I can afford, how long I’ll need to save up the down payment, and what a bank can approve me for.

Thankfully, my mom has offered to coach me through the technical areas, but the saving of the money and everything is all on me. So it’s going to be a year to figure out what I can do for the next year.

I do have some secondary hopes for 2014, but they mostly tie-into my bigger goals in some way.

Overall, I think it will be a great year!

What goals or hopes have you identified for 2014?

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas! It was a wonderful day…

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas!

I hosted my parents and stepbrother at my apartment this year, which was a first in many ways:

  1. First time I’ve spent Christmas in Florida – I usually go home to MA.
  2. First time Christmas with Nick & I living together.
  3. First time I’ve hosted people for Christmas at my own place.

It was a wonderful day, especially after a very busy Christmas Eve Day, which despite having it off of work was incredibly busy and had me going non-stop from 7am-11pm.

It was all worth it for Christmas Day though. Nick and I started our day off with a morning walk to Hyde Park Village with the dog, in an attempt to tire her out before everyone else arrived (it didn’t really work, but we tried). We did help someone who fell of his skateboard on our walk, which was totally random and left us both sort of shocked we witnessed that… but we also got some priceless snaps of Jaz in the sleigh in the square.

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Once we got back from our walk/adventure, we welcomed everybody in to relax in our living room, complete with a faux fireplace blazing on our TV.

Cozy_Fire(Did you know there is a hour long video for this on Netflix? It’s awesome!)

Even the cat came out and joined in on the fun when it came time to open the stockings. She got some fun new toys, including a laser pointer that drives her bonkers.

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The dog also picked up some new chew toys, but she was just as interested in the people and the cat.

It was fun having everyone together under our roof though. It was quite cozy!

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I think I was just as excited to see everyone else open up the gifts I got for them, as I was unwrapping my own gifts.

OpeningGiftsI absolutely loved the things I got. I immediately ate/used some of my smaller gifts, but these were the big ones…

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I was in desperate need of a new wallet, as I’ve had my favorite Loui wallet since college (it held up really well) and it was looking downright ragged. But, I may have been just as excited for the headphones once I plugged them in and felt like I had been transported to my very own private listening stage. They’re amazing.

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My new running shoes were something my mom had me pick out and get a custom fitting for, but I haven’t been able to run with my old shoes, so these were so very appreciated. And they’re sssooooo pretty!

Overall, we didn’t eat that bad until dessert time…

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How can you say no to coconut covered red velvet cake pops and shortbread cookies covered in powdered sugar? I think we all went a little bit crazy.

We watched some classic Christmas movies together before calling it a day, but oh what a great day!

Hop you had a very Merry Christmas too!

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | December 23, 2013

Weekend in pictures: Dog Beach & DIY Projects

Despite it being the weekend before Christmas, my weekend was pretty laid back, but surprisingly productive.

In addition to some of the basic errands (grocery shopping and the weekly Target run), Nick and I made a trip to Petsmart to do some pet holiday shopping and finally get Jasmine her a new dog tag to replace the “Adopt Me” tag she’s been sporting since before we adopted her.

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(Isn’t it cute?)

I also spared Nick the pain and spent some good quality time with an old friend – Michael’s Craft Store.

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I completely forgot how much I loved that place! Plus they were having 70% off Christmas items sales.

In an effort to try a new protein powder that I’m sampling for a present for someone else, I also made a new smoothie recipe!

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I call it Peachy-Green! It includes: frozen peaches, bananas,  plain greek yogurt, almond milk, spinach, peanut butter powder, ground ginger and hemp protein powder. Pretty delicious…

Then Nick and I packed Jaz up and headed to the Davis Island Dog Beach…

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She loves playing with the other dogs, but is still not completely sure what to do with water. We tried to get her to fetch a tennis ball…

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But even after reaching the ball, she would frequently abandon her efforts when a wave came along. Oh well. We’ll get there.

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When we got home, I jumped into some serious DIY projects, including…

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Yes, that is Puppy Chow (or Muddy Buddies depending who you ask). I’ll be sharing a recipe for this particular concoction soon though – they came out AWESOME.

And it may come as no surprise, but I am still working on my holiday cards (FYI – If you haven’t gotten one from me yet, I am working on it!). Though I have some beautiful cards to mail, however, I wanted to dry another DIY project for some handmade holiday cards…

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I’m putting together a blog post on that to share as well! They’re quick and super easy so that you could use them for pre or post holiday cards.

Nick and I also baked almost a literal ton of cookies, but we got so tired, we didn’t get to decorating them. That will be a project for another night.

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What did you do over the weekend?

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | December 22, 2013

Keeping the Christmas Magic

I have to start out by sharing a new holiday favorite before I get into some of the more traditional decor…

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I bought this Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride tea by Celestial Seasonings off the recommendation of a YouTuber – missglamorazzi – who mentioned it in one of her recent “favorites” videos, and OH MY GOSH, I am so glad I did. I found this at Whole Foods when we did our shopping yesterday and I’ve had three or four cups of this already! It’s not sweet, but miraculously tastes somewhat like sugar cookies (minus the sickening amounts of sugar).

It’s pure holiday magic. I plan to wipe out Whole Food’s stock this week.

Anyways….

Over the past few years, I’ve proven (to my myself mostly) that even if you don’t have a lot of time, space or money, you can still decorate your home and be festive this time of year. I’ve gone from having a full Christmas trees, to no tree (gasp), to a little potted tree that continues to remind visitors of Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree in recovery.

This year, I was lucky enough to have my mom (who along with my stepdad just relocated to the Tampa Bay area – yyyyaaayyy!!) come over and help me decorate. Since she’s not decorating their temporary apartment since they’re moving into their new house in a few weeks, so I got to use some of her decorations for my place!

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I had very minimal Christmas decorations due to the my lack of desire to spend a ton of money on decorations in the past few years (and moving loads of times). However, Nick and I (and the fuzzies) are hosting Christmas Day this year for the first time and I was set on making it very warm and homey. That is why I took up my mom’s offer to use her garland with lights and bows…

Garland_XMasDecor(It adds a little something extra, don’t you think?)

Little crystal strand/garland, which I added to a fresh Rosemary tree that I picked up from Whole Foods…

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And some pretty Victorian ornaments for my little tree…

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I picked up some window decals at Target in the dollar section (score!) and slapped them up on the living room window…

FrostyWindow_XMasDecor(We’ll see how long the animals let those stay up since they usually stick their face right where little Frosty’s bottom is.)

The window lights and crystal garlands, I had, and added my usual little snowflake ornaments to them.

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Since we don’t really have a ton of fireplaces in Florida, I had to get creative and hang our stockings around the TV…

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The whole place looks so awesome at night and it feels really cozy. I am not going to want to take them all down.

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And can we just take a moment to notice that Jaz was sitting still through my little photoshoot? She was just relaxing in the sunshine, looking downright chill.

She did look a tad bit bored about half way through…

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Of course, I think she was chasing the cat down the hall a few minutes after this, but I’ll take what I can get!

I still have a few ideas of how to decorate for Christmas Day a bit more with some DIY projects over the next week, but we’ll see if I have time to get to those.

How did you decorate for the holidays?

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | December 16, 2013

Weekend in pictures: SNOW and good food

This weekend was full with part work, part fun, but even my work event was pretty awesome.

We helped make it snow in Tampa!

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It wasn’t quite like the snow you get up north in New England (for good reason), but it was pretty awesome to be in flip flops and t-shirts and playing with snow. We accessorized accordingly though…

 

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My coworker and I celebrated a successful event Saturday evening with some post-event drinks at Taps in downtown Tampa. They tasted extra delicious after a long afternoon (plus, my toes got to thaw out).

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Sunday, meanwhile, was a catchup day since I worked Saturday. I did actually get a workout in, but followed it up with a decadent breakfast at Piquant (one of my faves since trying it back in March  in Hyde Park Village…

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Despite just working my butt off in spinning to burn off a bunch of calories, this gingerbread latte was calling my name. So yummy.

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Nick and I did also take the dog to the Davis Island Dog Beach, which was interesting. It was Jaz’s first time dealing with water… and she didn’t quite know what to do with it. She spent most of her time in it trying to bite it.

I didn’t get any pictures though, since I was dodging other wet dogs and watching Jaz do laps.

Turns out a wet dog is not any easier to catch or take pictures of.

How was your weekend?

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | December 11, 2013

New Holiday Tradition & Datz Dough Visit

One of my favorite bloggers, Carrots ‘N’ Cake initiated a new tradition in her household last year that I knew was right up my alley – 24 Days of Togetherness .

Basically it was a Bucket List for the days leading up to Christmas that she and her husband (and dog) could do together. Almost like an advent calendar (minus the religious tie-in) of treats that you created and then drew at random each day.

Since I’m pretty much part Christmas Elf, I made a mental note of bringing up the idea to Nick to see if we could do something similar this year. Well, once I explained the idea and assured him that the daily activities could be small (so as not to tap our already fixed holiday budget), he jumped on board!

We came up with about 22 ideas for activities that we wanted to do between Dec 1st and Christmas on our way home from Thanksgiving, which turned out to be a great way to pass the 2.5 hour drive from Vero Beach.

I wrote each item down on slips of paper, folded them up and tossed them into a box for us to draw each day, intending to bring a little bit extra holiday joy to each day of this festive month.

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Well, it is now halfway into December and I’m just writing about this, so you can probably guess that we didn’t get started with this on time. I went out of town for work the first two days of the month, then Nick had to go home for an urgent visit for several days. It wasn’t until he got home the other night that we committed ourselves to getting this new holiday tradition started.

So I guess instead of 24 Days, we’re starting off with a more modest 12 Days of Festiveness (I renamed it to personal our tradition a bit).

Nick had the honor of drawing the first day’s activity and he picked…

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Yes, that is right my friends, we had an excuse to go back to Dough!

Now, I wrote about a my first visit to Dough earlier this year, and I have visited numerous times since as it is one of my top-Tampa-sites-to-visit when friends and family come to town. However, I saw a month or so ago that they actually added a new Bistro Menu to their already mouthwatering list of decadent offerings and have been wanting to just check out what exactly that entailed.

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While our Days of Festiveness activity was just to get a treat from Dough, Nick and I both decided to splurge and just try the Bistro Menu.

I am SO GLAD we did. For just over $30, we got one appetizer, two entrees and two desserts that were all pretty awesome.

The service was also exceptional. In fact, a possible snag that I had with a gift card turned into an amazing opportunity for stellar customer service that they completely delivered on, and which left both and I even more in love with the place than before.

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We opted to take everything home to eat (you can eat there as well), though Nick tried one of the craft beers they offered while we waited…

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And we were so excited to dive into everything once we got home…

 

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The appetizer we shared was the Duck Fat Fries, which I would usually steer clear of because of the duck fat the baked potato wedges are fried in, but I really just couldn’t resist. Oh. My. Gosh. They were INCREDIBLE. Super crispy on the outside, but creamy soft on the inside and served with a confit roasted garlic aioli (aka there was a huge clove of roasted garlic in my aioli), they literally transported me to a place of pure bliss.

Nick then ordered the Chicken Garden Baguette which was made with roasted chicken breast a garlic aioli, tomato and spinach. It was actually incredibly moist, so much so that Nick couldn’t help but making a tiny bit of a mess eating it.

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For my selection, I chose the Fields of Salmon. The salmon filet was nothing too impressive by itself (it was likely a farm raised, previously frozen piece of fish), but the lavender honey glaze that crisped up the fish’s outside was delicious and became sort of a broth-like sauce. Some very lightly steamed spinach accompanied the fish to to round out the dish.

The desserts meanwhile… well, they were amazing as usual. Nick went with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie and I chose…

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The Red Velvet Brownie. And yes, it is exactly as good as it sounds.

All in all, it was a great way to kick-off our new holiday tradition of 12 Days of Festiveness. I can’t wait to see what is up next…

Are you starting any new holiday traditions this year?

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | December 9, 2013

Meet our newest family member…

Say hello to the newest member of our little family…

Jasmine!

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You may have seen previous pictures of my other fuzzy roommate, Elektra…

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But, now she has a sibling!

I’ve actually wanted to get a dog for years, but swore I wouldn’t get one until I could make sure the dog would be well taken care of. My schedule gets a bit crazy and I can’t always get home at the same time and as frequently as needed everyday, so I somewhat impatiently waited until the conditions were right.

Soon after Nick and I moved in together, we both started talking about getting a dog at some point, but it was until September when we seriously started talking about what we wanted in a dog, whether we wanted to buy or adopt and when might be a good time to start actively looking.

We both decided we wanted a medium to medium-small sized dog since we don’t have space for a big dog. Getting a dog that was going to be able to keep up with our active lifestyles was also super important. Both of us agreed that no matter what, the dog would need to be friendly with people and other animals (especially since it would be cohabitating with a cat right off the bat).

Adopting was an easy decision since both of us agreed that we wanted to give a good home to one of the many animals in shelters. So we hit the internet to search local shelters and adoption finder sites.

That is how we found Jasmine (previously known as Clarissa). Petfinder.com directed us to the Dalmatian Rescue of Tampa Bay who was fostering Jasmine.

First off, I have to say how great this rescue was to work with through the adoption process. They actually offered us a trial period with Jasmine to make sure that we all fit together, which was a real luxury since we didn’t already have a dog and had to adjust to the schedule and routine dogs demand.

Of course, after our two-week trial, we knew we couldn’t give her up (actually, I kind of thought this a few days in). Her sweet personality totally had us hooked. The way she was so easy-going around people of ages and dogs of all sizes made us love her even more.

Her cute little face… well how could you not love that face?

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And her energetic attitude that inspired us to be even more active, all fit with what we had hoped for.

I can’t say that Elektra was thrilled with her new roomie. In fact, even after almost a month together, they seem to have more of a love-hate relationship and spend most of their time together in epic face-off battles…

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We have finally fallen into a bit of a routine (it took a while) though, and have learned what works for us all of us. For example, we’ve learned that taking Jaz (her new nickname) for a walk/run everyday is the only way to get her to sit still for any amount of time.

She’s downright chill, after a run…

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And THIS actually happened over the past weekend, which was a downright MIRACLE…

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Occupying the same space without chasing each other is new. The sunshine lulls both of them into relaxation mode.

Jaz will be a fun new part of our family and even though we still need to do some training, she’s got the important stuff down. It’s been fun seeing her personality shine through as she’s gotten more comfortable and settled in too. Like, she is happy to sit in your lap if you let her, which is somewhat challenging since she’s 38 pounds! She just likes being close to us.

I’m excited to get to know her better and am also looking forward to doing some training classes together. She’s a smart cookie and I think we’ll be even better off when we can understand each other better.

Any tips for a new dog owner?

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | November 27, 2013

San Francisco/Wine Country Trip: Part 2

During my previous two trips to Wine Country, I hit up Sonoma once and Napa once, but only spent a day in each. I knew my mom, godmother and I were going to want a bit more time to explore, so we spent two days and two nights in beautiful Napa Valley as the second part of our Girls Trip.

I used to work at a fine dining restaurant in Tampa called Mise En Place (which I still love for special occasions) that included a lot of wines and therefor wine education, and I’ve wanted to get to some of my favorite wine makers’ wineries ever since. Finally, my wish came true.

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We headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge in the mid morning…

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And we arrived before lunch in Napa, so we stopped at our first winery, Stag’s Leap, to eat our sandwiches we brought with us and then began our wine tasting experiences!

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Something that was different from my last trip was the tasting prices. I swear the prices were around $10 for your normal wine flight (not the reserved flights), which includes 3-4 wines usually), but this time the cheapest one I saw was here at Stag’s Leap for $15. Typically you have someone that will be standing behind a bar that pours your wine and bounces from different groups of people tasting wine. Stag’s Leap was very right on par with that norm.

Our wine guide was friendly and knowledgeable though, but he pretty much just stuck with the menu – no adventurous deviations. To save on money and ensure that we wouldn’t be drunkers after our first stop, the three of us actually split one tasting flight (which included four wines) which was about 50-50 white and red.

Overall, it was a great first stop, but I think the location and landscaping was more impressive than their wines.

We were in Napa to taste wine so we didn’t venture too far after Stag’s Leap winery before stopping at our second winery, Pine Ridge Vineyards, which was sort of a spontaneous stop as we were driving along. This was very different from our first stop, since this Vineyard came across as a bit smaller and more personable.

You park right next to their “teaching vineyard” which allows visitors to get up close and personal with the vines…

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They even host special events in this section of their vineyard too, which was really cool.

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Our tasting experience here was very different because we sat outside on their patio, which was gorgeous, and a wine host/server tended to our shared tasting flight and provided a ridiculous amount of information about the wines and vineyard. He even gave us a taste of a wine off our tasting menu, which we really appreciated.

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By halfway through our tasting we were all feeling pretty good, especially when our wine host dropped off some bread sticks, which was just a fabulous little touch. We learned that they did offer a cheese, fruit and bread paired wine tasting flight, but you have to make reservations for it beforehand. If I ever go back, I shall definitely be doing that again.

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(All smiles from my mom and godmother)

We didn’t do any tours here, but I did get to peak inside the cellar that sits right next door to the tasting room, which was pretty cool…

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I also bought some fun custom seasonings and salts from here… hello early holiday shopping!

After two wineries/tastings, we were ready to check-in to our hotel and locate a dinner spot. We chose a highly recommended restaurant in downtown Napa called Carpe Diem Wine Bar, which was totally and completely a home run.20131125-221105.jpg

Not only did we score a FREE bowl of their truffle popcorn (thank you Foursquare check-in special!), but they had great wine flights and amazing food.

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I ended up getting a salad and flat bread, followed by yummy dessert, so I left very full and satisfied. Highly recommend this fun stop for a dinner if you find yourself in Napa.

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On our second day, we fulfilled my wine dreams and visited TWO of my favorite wine makers…

The first, and probably my favorite from the trip, was Robert Sinskey Vineyards where we indulged in some of the best cabernet souvignon I’ve tasted.

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Their tasting room is setup so that you can see the kitchen they prepare the little bites that go with your wine tasting (profiteroles, cheese, seasoned oil almonds, and olives), among other meals they cater, which was pretty neat.

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This was my favorite tasting because our wine guide was super friendly and let us taste a couple wines that weren’t on our tasting flight menu. He definitely let us have more fun and gave us a lot of useful information about the wines and the vineyard.20131125-221124.jpg

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All three of us ended up actually buying some wine here, since it was just too good to leave.

Our fourth and final stop was at Honig Winery, which was the most interesting tasting experience we had. This wine maker has a very sustainability-focused approach to wine and business and they’re very up front about it. They also take a more unique one-on-one approach to wine tastings. You have one person that sits down with you to teach you about the history of the winery and each of the wines you taste. It’s pretty incredible, especially since both hosts we saw sitting with people (yes, you get your own table beneath the trees outside), were actually part of the family-owned business!

Honig only makes sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon, but boy oh boy do they know how to make those two wine varieties. Totally delicious.

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I was the only one that really insisted on buying more wine, but I felt like the prices were well worth it and I know I have something to look forward to for when I crack that bottle open.

We capped our day off with a stop at Mustards Grill, which is a super cute restaurant that actually has a whole garden they let visitors meander through, and a very farm-to-table approach. We actually perused their gardens before going inside for dinner.

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(Not really sure what these are, so if you know, please let me know in the comments.)

Plus, they have this super cute sculptural water fountain out front that absolutely everyone (including me) had to stop and take pictures of…

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The food was amazing (with an impressing – and funny – wine list, of course) and we all left with happy bellies.

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The morning we left Napa, we had one final stop to make to round out our wine country visit. We had to stop at Carneros Inn’s Boon Fly Cafe for breakfast.

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I had the privilege of staying The Carneros Inn one night a while back and it was pretty cool, but I didn’t get to eat at their Cafe, so this was something I really wanted to try. All the ingredients were super fresh and the atmosphere is bright and energetic. So, even though you may have to wait a little while (they had us down at a 25-minute wait when we got there), it’s worth it. Their flat breads (at breakfast and lunch) are especially delicious and come highly recommend if you read reviews online.

Needless to say, we left Napa after two days feeling totally relaxed and well-fed.

The ride back to San Francisco went by really fast, even though we made a quick stop in the Marin Headlands, where we got some spectacular views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. You can even see the racing sail boats in the Bay (sort of)…

We did have to make one more last stop at The Ice Cream bar too…

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By the time my mom and I checked into our hotel by the airport on our last night of vacation, we were both so happy and tired. Not bad tired, but the kind of tired you get at the end of a trip where you’re satisfied, but also kind of ready to head back home.

We both agreed that the best part of the whole week long vacation was the time we got to spend with “just the girls.”

It was a truly amazing trip and even though I had a ridiculous amount of things to catch up on once I got home, it was such a memorable experience in so many ways. It was one of those trips that leaves you feeling like a better, wiser and well rounded (though I’m not sure why) individual.

Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | November 25, 2013

September Trip – San Francisco: Part 1

Holy goodness, it has been TOO LONG since I’ve had time to sit down and write a blog post!

I have had some fun stuff happening too! Shame on me.

So instead of updating on everything in the last… two-ish months, I’m going to highlight probably the biggest and coolest trip I’ve taken in a long time – my trip to San Francisco.

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This trip has been in the planning since late last year and I’ve been wanting to do a “Girls Trip” for way longer. So, my mom, godmother, and I organized our crazy schedules and we decided to visit my godmother, Jane in San Francisco (one of my favorite cities). We marked our calendars and even though it seemed far away when we started, our September trip came up pretty fast!

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Since my mom was flying from MA (one of her last week’s there before she and my stepdad moved to FL – yay!) and I was flying from Florida, we met in San Francisco at the airport.

I was crazy tired when we got in, not from being jet-lagged, but rather I only got three hours of sleep before I left since I was up so late working. No matter, however, because I was in SAN FRANCISCO which I hadn’t been to in 7-8 years (gasp)!

I pretty much did a happy dance when we got there.

I immediately snapped a picture as we got into the city and headed down to the Marina area for a walk…

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We made a quick pit stop for a drink and afternoon snack/lunch (our stomachs were not really on West Coast time, so what felt like an early dinner was afternoon snack time. Love that time difference.

If you’ve never been to San Francisco before, one of your first stops should be the Marina area so you can get a view of the Bay, Alcatraz (which is not really pretty…) and that beautiful Golden Gate bridge.

My mom and I even stopped to take a little snap together…

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(which would have been great had it not been for the family that walked up behind us).

While we had a great first afternoon in the city, we were ssssoooooo happy to check-in to our hotel. By 10 p.m. we were wiped out. I almost fell asleep in my favorite pizza from Pizza Orgasmica (yes, you read that right).

I couldn’t tell you what our hotel looked like that first night, but the next morning we were up early and ready to explore, so I got a picture first thing in the early morning light…

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Isn’t it pretty?

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The hotel was just several blocks from Jane’s apartment in Nob Hill, but it was all uphill. It was pretty intense, but I was so excited to see hills after being so used to the Florida flat, that I was thrilled. We had to walk by Grace Cathedral too, which is beautiful.

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Unfortunately, they were doing construction on the walking labyrinth (which I last did when I was about… 16 years old), so we couldn’t get up close.

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We ended up going and walking the city early on that Saturday morning, and it was so peaceful and quiet, we covered a LOT of ground pretty quick. We went from Nob Hill, down to Pacific Heights (lots of food and shops), then turned around and walked back through Russian Hill to China Town and then up to Nob Hill again. (It doesn’t sound far, but please note all this, with the exception of Pacific Heights proper, was hills.)

Got some great pics though:

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Lombard Street (aka the crookedest, literally, street in the world) is always packed with tourists and their cameras, so getting out early meant we were the only obnoxious tourists blocking the street.

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It’s spiderman/men! Nope, it’s a few window washers.

We actually ended up going on a car ride later that day once we were done our walk, and stopped at a number of touristy areas, including to see the “Painted Ladies,” or for those of who loved TGIF TV comedies… the houses where Full House filmed their intro!

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We also drove through Haight Ashbury, which every Grateful Dead fan will know, over to Golden Gate Park.

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Though we originally planned on just going to the Conservatory of Flowers, which I’d never been to before,  we ended up walking miles into the park. It’s a gorgeous place to walk, so besides my sore feet, it was an amazing afternoon.

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Still, I was really happy to get back in the car and take a ride down the coast to see the beaches. The weather was complete perfection while we were there – mostly sunny in the low to mid 70s – so it was really fantastic to be out all day.

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The next day we were really not feeling lots of walking, so we drove around a bit, then wondered over to Hayes Valley, which reminds me of the Somerville area in MA, where I found one of the best things since sliced bread – a Juice Truck!

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That night, Jane and her husband Rich, surprised us after dinner with a trip to Twin Peaks to the best view of the city at night…

You can even see the fog rolling in from West…

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Since my mom and I were so intrigued by what we saw driving through Haight Ashbury (I actually saw a woman with a cat, not a monkey, on a leash standing on her shoulders – WHAT??), we decided we had to go back to get a closer look and buy some souvenirs. This area is a definite must on places to see, and they have really great and unique shops.

We spent a half hour trying to choose two t-shirts in this one store, which had printed t-shirts covering three walls of the place…

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I was slightly overwhelmed by the variety.

Jane and Rich also introduced my mom and I to the best ice cream place EVER. No exaggeration here folks, The Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley is some of the most flavorful ice cream in the best waffle cone, I’ve had. The cone is buttery and slightly salted so that it makes the ice cream taste even creamier and more more flavorful.

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We made two trips here before we left because we loved it so much (and neither my mom or I are “ice cream people” normally).

On one of our last full days in San Francisco, we also stopped and had lunch in Noe Valley which is on the opposite side of the “fog line” so that the weather there is sunnier and warmer than in most of the city limits. The fog bumps into the hills around the Twin Peaks area I guess and just don’t typically get farther than that.

Who knew?

The final two places I insisted we go to were to drive down The Embarcadero past Fisherman’s Warf and all the extra areas they had set up for the America’s Cup races (that were happening while were in town)…

And the Palace of Fine Arts…

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I even brought out my Google Glass for some snaps and updates. Definitely learned that I need the sunglasses-style lenses (which of course I didn’t bring with me) for outdoor activity, but I made it work!

Still one of my favorite spots to just relax and watch the fog roll in.

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We ate at some fantastic restaurants and also did a bit of shopping here and there, but they were all so good, they just kind of blurred together during our five days.

San Francisco was actually just part of our trip though, because the second leg of our journey was… WINE COUNTRY.

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For the second part of our vacation, the three of us took the one-hour car ride to Napa Valley for a two-day immersion into the land of wine… (Check back for my recap of Napa going up soon!)

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