review, Travel, wine

Elk Island Winery; Goochland, VA

Virginia has tons of wineries. And they aren’t just in Charlottesville but instead scattered all over. A neighbor of mine has been telling me about the love Elk Island Winery for some time now. I have tried them before at the Virginia Wine Expo but never made it out to visit them. So we finally set a date and made a day of it.

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The bright shades of purple on the pennants at the entrance were a good indicator that we had reached the wine and made them noticeable off the road. Once you turn in there is quite a steep incline down to the winery. It made the whole thing seem more rustic and hidden away. I really liked it! The tasting room is also unassuming it just looks like a neighbor’s house, no big deal.

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And that quiet, unassuming, homey atmosphere continued once you entered the tasting room. The stairway leading upstairs was an impromptu gift shop, and the owner, Sue, was in the foyer putting labels on boxes! It was just the best entrance into a tasting room ever!

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The entire tasting room is full of the cutest little knick knacks and signs. It invites you to wander around and peruse. The chessboard is a battle of corks and zorks which I thought was a really cute touch. And as the dog people that they are they had treats set out for your four-pawed friends.

They had another little corner with some items for sale. One thing that really stood out to me were some locally made soaps using the wines from Elk Island Winery! I love local, I love wine, I love being clean! Total winner in my books.

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But, I digress from the wine! The tasting menu is very straight forward, you get to pick 6 wines for $5.00, but your tasting fee is waved with the purchase of a bottle of wine so it really is a steal. I stuck with the dry wines because that’s where my palette likes to be. And it very much enjoyed the Elk Island wines it tried.

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Also, the tasting came with the cutest little penguin crackers. I named mine Timothy. Apparently these cheese penguins come from costco and they are super cheesy. I think I’ll search them out at my next visit there.

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They have a variety of snacks and beverages on offer as well as merchandise for sale. They really do invite you to stay and relax with them after your tasting.

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After our tasting we grabbed some drinks and snacks and sat outside. The house’s back deck serves as outdoor seating and really does complete that homey atmosphere. There are two more large tables with tables and extra chairs as well as smaller tables scattered around. There were three different groups out there with us and we never felt crowded.

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One thing that I really love about a winery is when they allow outside food and non-alcoholic drinks and provide a comfy place to sit and enjoy their wine. We did bring some snacks but we also got their cheese plate. Which, at twelve dollars is a total steal.

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And of course, drinks! I got a glass of their Chambourcin Rosé and just had to try the ginger green tea sangria because it’s so unusual! It was amazingly refreshing and perfect for one of the first warm spring days we have had!

If you are ever out and about in Goochland, VA take a trip over to Elk Island Winery! The atmosphere and wines won’t disappoint! Come thirsty and hungry because they have plenty to satisfy both cravings! Cheers Elk Island!

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We headed just down the road to Byrd Cellars after we finished here. A perfect one, two combo!

review, Travel, wine

Byrd Cellars; Goochland, VA

After our visit to Elk Island Vineyards we headed down the road a few minutes to Byrd Cellars for some more locally grown Goochland, VA wine. It is another very lovely and homey set of buildings divided into a tasting room and a winery.

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The winery is painted a gorgeous shade of purple and catches the light beautifully. There are mentions of this being a subterranean winery on the website and the phrase was bandied about in the tasting room. But I didn’t ask at the time. I would really like to know if they do tours!

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But the tasting room is the place to be. It’s so picturesque from the outside but the inside takes your breath away as well.

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In fact, the tasting room was hand built by a minister who lived there with his wife for years. After his wife passed he decided to move on to travel ministry and rents his home out to Byrd Cellars. The place is beautiful inside with large windows overlooking the mountains and elegantly exposed beams. But, onto the tasting!

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The wines they have on offer for tasting rotates and they have it listed behind the tasting bar. There were some sweeter wines that I usually prefer but overall it was a very good selection. A surprising was the “velvet” I thought it would be syrupy sweet but instead it was lovely and dry and the bitter dark chocolate hit you right at the end.

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The staff was so friendly and knowledgable I could have stood there and sipped for a lot longer. But they were busy and I didn’t want to hog the bar. Instead I took a wander around the tasting room while we finished our glasses off.

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The exposed beams held all the glasses from the different wine festivals that Byrd Cellars has attended and I thought this was such a neat touch and really gave you a sense of how vast wine making in Virginia is. I also loved these twine and button wine bottles!

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It was a very successful girls’ day! Cheers to Virginia Wine!

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review, Travel

Thurmont, MD and Gettysburg, PA

My group of friends decided we needed to go away for a weekend and all of us have been wanting to see Gettysburg National park so we headed up that way a few weeks ago. Of course this meant packing up my entire house. Poor Lloyd gets so overwhelmed by how much I pack when we go on a road trip. But we always manage to get it all in the car.

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We rented a very cute little airbnb up in Thurmont, MD. It was about a thirty minute drive south of Gettysburg and located near some nice wineries and other attractions. We also happened to be celebrating 4 March birthdays I set up one of the living rooms as a birthday center when we arrived.

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And then it was time get our food and wine organized! We started off the evening with a nice meat and cheese board because that’s always a crowd pleaser. Meat and Cheese straight from Wegman’s, provided by Reese, one of the birthday girls!

As far as wine went we weren’t sure if we brought enough for the weekend. we actually didn’t end up getting through it all but we sure tried. You can thank Claire for the artistic wine set-up.

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Once everyone arrived it was time for dinner. We had a Sweet Potato and Turkey Shepherd’s Pie along with a strawberry and basil salad. Don’t mind Lloyd’s super creepy face. It’s just his “about to eat” look.

The next morning we got up bright and early to head up to gettysburg. The area we were staying in was absolutely beautiful and we were greeted with some absolutely stunning views. Claire caught the sunrise through her bedroom windows. It was like a rainbow.

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We had to hurry up and get out of the house so we would have plenty of time to explore the park and the town. I had made these Waffle Breakfast Sandwiches ahead of time and they definitely went over well. I made some strong ginger spiced Indian tea to go along with them. Perfect combo.

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Gettysburg National Park is huge extending over much of the current town of Gettysburg, PA. The visitor center has a visually stunning movie as well as an incredible cyclorama. We walked through the museum and got the car CD that gives you an audio tour of the different locations of the battlefield. It takes 3 or 4 hours to get through the drive and another hour or so tour the museum. So plan to spend a good chunk of your day being overwhelmed by the loss of life.

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We actually ended up breaking up our day and doing the museum/visitor’s center in the morning and the drive through the park in the afternoon. We went to a pub in downtown Gettysburg called Garryowen Irish Pub. The food was great and the drinks were cold and refreshing. They even do a black velvet which is champagne and Guinness. Basically nectar of the Gods.

After that we stopped by a local winery’s tasting room. It’s called Knob Hill Winery. The wine was a little sweeter than I prefer but the ambience in the tasting room superb!

When we had finished at the park we headed back to the house for the evening’s main event! We had planned on a murder mystery party using a kit we found on amazon. It’s designed as a “flexi party” so that the murderer changes every time which means you can use the kit again and again.

 

Dinner was a three course affair, that synched up with the murder mystery party. We started off with Crockpot French Onion Soup and then moved onto Herbs de Provence Chicken with Roasted Vegetables and Ratatouille. Because we were traveling I had brought up aluminum baking trays and it was great idea because nothing the house had was big enough. It’s going to be my new go-to plan whenever I travel.

The whole evening was fantastic and we rounded it off by celebrating everyone’s birthdays. Claire ordered these cakes from Shyndigz in Richmond, VA and Kimbrough brought them up. We had a salted caramel and strawberry lemon cake. Divine! Ignore the bizarre cake toppers we had to get creative to make sure everyone was represented.

The next morning was a little lazy and slow because we didn’t have to be out of the house very early. Luckily I had made a Savory Overnight Crockpot Oatmeal so I didn’t have to get up and fuss in the kitchen. The handmade bacon and sausage from Woodbury Farms that Steve brought was just the thing to make the morning perfect.

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To sum up we had a fabulous weekend filled with friends, food, wine. Gettysburg was moving and unimaginable all at the same time. And our time in our Thurmont, MD Airbnb was just perfect. On the way home we stopped by Springfield Manor which was an immense visit! More on that soon!

Travel

Cuppa Cheer Tea Room; Ladysmith, VA

Lloyd and I recently drove up to Thurmont, Maryland to spend a weekend with some friends. Along the way we we spotted what is easily the cutest little Tea Room I’ve ever seen in Ladysmith, VA. Even the name of the town is darling! It was kismet cause I had googled for places where we could have afternoon tea on our drive up and hadn’t had any luck so when we saw it on an exit sign we knew we had to make a stop. The place is pretty small but that really adds to the coziness. Which was heightened by the cute knick knacks all over the shop. My favorite were the parasols hanging from the ceiling.

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They also had the most twee table settings. Everything was done up in lovely, bright colors with fresh flowers dotting their space.

All of the wall hangings were perfectly spring-like! And dotted all the available wall space. But it was so tastefully done that you didn’t feel overwhelming at all. I especially loves the way they used parts of the tea service in the decor.

But, the most important thing is whether the tea and the food stood up to our rigorous taste testing! Spoiler alert: it was! I also loved the doily detail on the menu!

The tea selection was great. I went for the Victorian Earl Grey and Lloyd had the Burgundy Blast. They were both perfect. Lloyd was in heaven, he loves any tea with hibiscus.

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The Earl Grey was exactly what I wanted with this delightful hint of rose that was unexpected and refreshing. And I just love the way milk sinks into tea so I had to share that visual with you.

The Menu was a sort of pre fixe situation in which you pick the number of courses you prefer. We just did the basic tea for two and were absolutely stuffed. It started off with a delicious pair of scones. Golden raisin and caraway seeds paired with a strawberry shortcake.

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I’m not usually a dried fruit kinda gal but I am lover of caraway seeds. Honestly it was one of the best scones I have ever had. It even came with cutest little side dish of lemon curd and butter.

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Next up we each got a “main” tea sandwich. I got the cheese on toast and Lloyd got the cucumber sandwiches. They were served up with cheese, fruits and vegetables and were scrumptious.

Lastly we finished off with a pastry trio. We were honestly so stuffed that we couldn’t finish all the desserts. But they had a delicious lemon tart, a chocolate chip and shortbread tart and some walnut chocolate fudge.

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I was taken with the cute way they brought out their check. It reminded me Alice in Wonderland.

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Speaking of Terrie and Charlotte I wanted to take a moment to introduce the two ladies I met there. Terrie is the owner and does all the cooking, she was the sweetest lady and her inspired idea for a tea room has definitely been a winner. Charlotte was our very knowledgable server and tea connoisseur.

After dessert we were able to take a little turn around the gift shop. Most of the products are actually hand made by Charlotte who also goes by M’Lady Alanna. I was so impressed with her handmade tea cozies. Dobby the Elf would have been beside himself!

My absolute favorite was this handmade shrug. It looks like something straight out of Outlander. If you read the label you’ll notice it says “Emily Bronte Shrug” this is because they host literary nights about once a month! It sounds fantastic and I’m definitely adding it to my to-do list!

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All in all if you ever find your self driving up I-95 towards DC I think you owe it to yourself to plan for afternoon tea at this quaintly English tea room!

Travel

Napa Valley Wine Train

There is a train in Napa, CA where you can you eat fancy food and visit wineries. It is amazing. It is my new happy place.

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The Napa Valley Wine Train was the main event for my bachelorette festivities and it was absolutely perfect. Since most of the trains were built in 1915 and still retain a lot of the original decor I decided that period dress was appropriate. We went for a roaring twenties look because feathers and sequins are always classy. And our style went perfectly with the ambience of both the train and the depot. The depot was great fun because they have a wine shop where you can purchase wine for your trip. If you are visiting I suggest perusing the shop. They do charge a corkage fee to open wine on the train but if you buy the right bottle it ends up being cheaper to do it that way than to buy a bottle on the train. And we had the loveliest server pouring wine for us.

 

Leaving the depot you cross a love lock bridge to board the train. While love lock bridges have gained popularity in recent years they allegedly date back to a small serbian village at the beginning of World War I. And they definitely add to the old world vibe of train travel that Wine Train is going for.

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The train ride included a pre-fixe three course meal and wine for days. All of the food was spectacular and presented beautifully. But the setting was what really made it outstanding. The chairs had this lovely rich upholstery and the huge windows were richly draped. It felt like I was in the dining car of the Orient Express. All that was missing was Hercule Poirot solving a murder.

 

Our train took us to Grgich Hills Estate, which is run by the vintner responsible for the “Judgement of Paris” win in 1976. In a blind taste test Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay beat out the French Burgundy Chardonnay’s. This was a landmark win for American wine putting us above the level of French wine, which at the time was the gold standard. 2008’s Bottle Shock starring Chris Pine and the dearly departed Alan Rickman takes a lot of poetic license with this story but is definitely required viewing for any oenophile.

 

Our tour guide at the winery was astounding. he had so much energy and they had crafter the perfect tour that allowed to visit all the different aspects of the winery and tasting wine while we walked.

 

I had so much fun being all flapper sophisticated with my girls. It honestly is one of the best fashion eras. Getting ready in the morning was a whirlwind of hair curling, feathers, sequins, bold lips, pearl, tassels and mimosas. We also used a lot of nonsense roaring 20s lingo. I think my favorite phrase was “I’ve got legs that go all the way to the floor.” But honestly, look at these ladies! Don’t their legs go right down to the floor??

 

Grgich Hills Estate even lended some old world charm with perfect lighting in their barrel room and vintage racer that my friend, Phryne, posed elegantly against. We were not allowed to sit in the racer. And in the spirit of not getting thrown out we actually followed the rules.

 

I also have to say that they had really excellent crackers. You would be surprised the number of wineries I’ve been to with low quality or, gasp, no crackers.

 

After the winery we were back on the train to return to the depot. They were so nice and let us explore. We had a quick photo shoot on the caboose and along the corridors. It was definitely one of the most exciting parts of the adventure.

 

All in all it was the perfect event to celebrate my upcoming wedding. I love wine. I love my girlfriends. I love trains. I love the 1920s. I love Lloyd and am so glad he asked me to marry him so that I had an excuse to do all those things!

 

Travel

Napa, CA

Admission time: I’ve been planning my bachelorette party since I was a little girl. Probably for as long, if not longer than I have been planning my wedding. Like the imagined wedding of my youth it has gone through many revisions. But one thing was for sure, it would be filled with friends, food, drinks and very little sleep. In recent years I have developed a deep love affair with wine and wine related vacations. When I discovered the Napa Valley Wine Train I know that was the ideal destination for the festivities I had in mind. Luckily Lloyd proposed shortly thereafter and following many months of planning and anticipation Napa Girls’ Trip 2018 is in the books. And it was indeed filled with friends, food, wine and almost no sleep.

We rented the cutest little cottage/bungalow house just down a ways from Main Street, Napa. There were many homes on offer in the Napa Valley through AirBnB and VRBO. But we were a large group looking to stay more central since our main event was the Wine Train and this cozy space met our needs perfectly. We actually rented through HomeAway and the property itself can be found here. It was painted a rustic green that made me think of grapes and vines and was well appointed with plenty of sitting space (inside and out) as well as rather snugly beds. It had an easy to use and well maintained gas grill as well as an hot tub. Both of which we very much enjoyed. And the kitchen had everything we needed to put together a lovely meal. We even used some of the fresh lavender that was growing next to the house to make simple syrup, as well as some Meyer lemons from Ermentrude’s backyard.

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As wonderful as the kitchen and garden were the best part of this home was the gorgeous backyard with the aforementioned grill and hot tub. We spent one evening grilling meat and enjoying an homemade Mexican fajita bar and the next night in the hot tub drinking our bodyweight in Cava, Rose’ and West Coast Chardonnay.

The house had some really cute touches that I really enjoyed. The TV stand had a bowl of wine corks that people had signed and there was an adorable little fireplace in one corner. I really appreciated that they had plenty of pillows on the bed. When Lloyd and I sleep apart I make a Lloyd shaped pillow pile on my right side and pretend like it’s him. It’s not nearly hot, sweaty or snoring enough, but it does the trick!

If you ever have an evening free to spend with your girlfriends might I suggest a fajita bar? Make a couple of different dips and salsas, caramelize some peppers and onions, grill up your favorite meat and open many, many bottles of wine. Some people might ask why I skipped out on the classic margarita and to those people I say… tequila is a bad decision juice, that’s why. Even with sticking to wine I managed to forget to take pictures of the vast majority of the food we made that night including a tomato salsa, guacamole, a corn and black bean dip, caramelized red/orange peppers and onions, grilled chicken, steak and tortillas. Not mention a multitude of nibbly bits like almonds, cheese and crackers. And wine. Did I mention wine? So much wine.

My lovely ladies and most spectacular Maid of Honor, Olivia, really outdid themselves when it came to the decorating. There was glitter, bridal paraphernalia and male genitalia all over the place. I’ll keep the pictures of the naughty stuff off of here. But there were inflatables and straws and a world of other risqué items that had me blushing all night long!

Olivia even had shirts made for all my girls. Which was simply the best thing. She did a great job picking out shirts for people she had only ever heard me talk about. She is thoughtful and introspective that way. Also, etsy for the win! It was really fantastic having all these women I know from different walks of life under one roof. Having moved a lot for school and work I have a lot of close friends that live all over the country and the world (Australia, in particular). So I rarely get to see some of my nearest and dearest and most of them have never even met each other. It was a really special weekend for me watching all my best friends get to know each other!

I’ve been hemming and hawing trying to avoid crying while I write this. But I have to mention a special gift that Claire curated for me. In addition to being an excellent doctor and oenophile she is also a gifted scrapbooker. She got in touch with all the girls I invited to my bachelorette and asked them all to send in pictures of us together and fill out a little questionnaire she had put together. I read all the letters out loud and cried through all of them. It was one of the sweetest and most touching gifts I’ve ever gotten. Made more so by the inclusion of those friends who couldn’t make it. I couldn’t believe all the time and effort people so obviously put into answering Claire’s questions about our friendships. Their words and love touched the very cockles of my heart. And the whole thing proved exactly how much I need waterproof, air brushed, shellacked makeup for my wedding cause I can’t even type this paragraph without tearing up.

Every picture and page and letter included in this scrapbook makes me eyes well. This weekend taught me how important it is to cherish your friends and cultivate your friendships. All of these amazing women were in my life before Lloyd and helped me become the person he loves and wants to marry. They watched me stumble, grow, change and strive to become the woman I am today. They are my roots.

Travel

Oakland, CA

I love airplanes. I love the rush when they take off. I love that they get me to the West Coast in twelve hours and nobody dies of dysentery. I love that plane selfies are more acceptable than work selfies. I love being the first one to do the crossword puzzle. But most of all I love when they take me to visit a friend I haven’t seen in years.

 

On the way to my bachelorette party in Napa I stopped to pick up my officiant, Ermentrude, in Oakland. We’ve known each other since high school and we are basically common law married on facebook. She moved to the other side of the country a few years ago so it’s been ages since I’ve seen her in person. But Ermentrude knew exactly how to welcome me to her new home.

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I had a great time exploring her neighborhood and spending quality time with one of my oldest friends. I got to meet her beau and discover exactly how close she now lives to Trader Joe’s. Walking distance, she lives walking distance from the world’s best grocery store. I was so jealous I took this weirdly distorted picture of the sign that can be seen from her street in a mock rage.

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One of the wonderful thing about Richmond is how amazingly tolerant we are as a city. And one of the thing I loved about visiting my friend’s neighborhood in Oakland, CA is realizing that tolerance is everywhere. I saw dozens of signs touting this philosophy and was touched by every one.

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I was also in awe of all the cute homes and their gardens overflowing with gorgeous succulents. There were huge, they were colorful and as odd as it sounds they made the whole neighborhood smell amazing. Although that might have been the pot that was being smoked all over.

 

I just think you should know that I am succulent murderer. I don’t mean for them to die. But they die. I think if I lived in San Francisco and not Richmond I would have less of a murderous past. While I was in San Francisco I also murdered this delicious coffee and toast breakfast from Oliveto’s.

 

Of note when you go to another local shop they have a basket of freshly boiled eggs sitting next to the cashier. Just sitting there. Being adorable. And slightly overcharging you for the luxury of a pre-boiled egg.

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After our morning ramble we went to back to Ermentrude’s quaint cottage and got down to business before heading back to the airport to pick up another couple of ladies and finally head to Napa! Since all my girls has been so kind as to fly all the way in from various parts of the world and country I wanted to make sure I had a lovely little welcome waiting for them. I had spent a considerable amount of time scouring etsy, pinterest and instagram for the perfect gift and eventually settled on gift bag stuffed with travel essentials. Fortunately for me we live in a world with Amazon Prime and I was able to find everything I wanted to include and ship it directly to Ermy’s house for free. I tried to load it down with practical things that would make a girl’s weekend more enjoyable. I settled on a water bottle (glass, so you could drink wine), a scarf and collapsible makeup bag that I filled with smaller treats. In the makeup bag I had two different lip stains that worked great together, oil blotting sheets, a tide stick, fun sunglasses, a sheet mask and of course ferraro rocher!

 

I did order some iron-on decals off Etsy from Chessa Creations. I’ve ordered from her before and would absolutely recommend her to anyone looking for a custom made order! I was very scared about ironing on the decals myself but her instructions were perfect and they turned out great! It was really a lot easier than I thought it would be. I now want to personalize everything!

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All in all my one night in Oakland was definitely the perfect start to my bachelorette festivities! If you have a long time friend you haven’t seen in a while I suggest you make a plan right now to go visit them. In this age of facebook, instagram, snapchat, iMessage, gmail, FaceTime, etc. I feel like we sometimes forget how special it is to actually be with someone. So go take a vacation with your bestie!

Travel

Manteo, NC

Have you been to the Outer Banks? I grew up in North Carolina so this was a frequent summer destination spot for my family. And when I became an adult I kept going back. I thought I knew all the best spots. But like most OBX snobs I was always focused on the beach side. On this recent trip over a holiday weekend we decided to explore the sound side and were thrilled with the little beach hamlet of Manteo, NC.

We rented a cute little place just a five minute walk from the water that allowed dogs. There were a dozen different places that had great food and drinks just a few minutes walk from where we were. We drank our body weight in La Croix, nibbled our way through all the snacks we brought and even found a local book shop so we could read books about the beach, while being at the beach.

And no trip would be complete without drinks! The restaurants had pretty standard wine and beer lists. There were a number of free wine tastings that we indulged in as we were out and about. I even tried a flight of beer. But the standout was out trip to the Outer Banks Distillery to try Kill Devil Hills Rum! It also happened that a good friend was staying in Rodanthe so she was able to come visit with us.

But by far the best part of our trip was how dog friendly every thing was. We were able to take Grace and Bhaloo with us to eat which was a rare treat. And they enjoyed seeing the lighthouse and meeting the locals as much as we did.

There was a local farmer’s market on Sunday morning and I got very close to some honey bees (who were very kindly behind glass) and tried the local honey.

Having lived in Virginia for the last five years I’ve become accustomed to some pretty spectacular sunsets. But the Outer Banks never fails to impress.

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There is something hugely romantic about lighthouses, in my opinion. I think the Manteo Lighthouse at sunset proves my point.