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House of Blues Gospel Brunch – a must-see!

Disclosure: We received comp tickets to attend this event.

I grew up with music as a very big part of my life. It was an essential part, in fact. My mom sang. I sang. Many members of my extended family sang or played instruments. I have such great memories of neighborhood jam sessions where my uncle played steel guitar, a cousin played fiddle my aunt played acoustic guitar, and another cousin played mandolin or banjo. It is part of who I am and maybe why I miss singing so much (enough to torture my friends regularly with karaoke, in fact).

You might not know this, but I grew up attending a small country church. So in addition to country music, bluegrass, and rock-n-roll, I had gospel. Lots of old-fashioned, southern-style, tap-your-toes gospel music. You name an old church hymn and I can probably sing it. (Old Rugged Cross? Check. Victory in Jesus? Check. Power in the Blood? Check.)

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Fast forward to now and one of the things I miss most is Sunday Church music. So when I heard House of Blues was promoting their Gospel Brunch, I just knew I had to check it out. I gathered up a few girlfriends and we went to HOB in downtown San Diego to see if it lived up to its reputation.

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(Melissa in front; Maggie, Debbie, Elizabeth, Rory, me; Abby had to leave & missed the photo)

I have to say, it totally did. The food (it is a brunch, after all) was great. It’s a buffet and there’s a lot of variety, with some good old southern food thrown in. We all had more than enough to eat.

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And the music. Oh, the music. It fed my soul, y’all. I needed that. Great choir, a little humor and fun thrown in, and the plenty of toe-tappin’ foot stompin’ music. They even pulled some people out of the audience to sing and each of them could sing crazy-good, too! Such a great way to spend a Sunday morning. Feed your stomach, then feed your soul.

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I highly recommend it and plan on taking the hubby back to see it with me. (It’s kid-friendly, but it depends on their age and how well they handle the crowd and noise. It gets a little rambunctious — in a good way.) It was a great time – and I think all of my girlfriends agreed!

Disclosure: We received complimentary tickets so we could attend Gospel Brunch. We were not required to write a review in any way, but I am doing so because I wanted to share my thoughts on it. All views are my own.

Disney PLANES takes off! (A review and some fun activities for kids)

Disclosure: We attended the press preview for the movie

I took my 5-year-old son on a date this past Monday. We don’t get a lot of “just us” time together. So when we got the chance to see Disney’s PLANES in the theater, I thought that’d be the perfect mother-son date.

You see, I love Disney movies. Always have. When they started coming out on video, I began my collection. I had ALL of them. And I still – at almost 40 – love to watch the movies. This was no exception.

PLANES

There’s something about the characters in this Cars/Planes world that are so cute & adorable & a little bit goofy. As an adult, you can probably guess the ending of the movie. But when a kid sees it, they get completely caught up in the story. And it’s as much fun to watch them as it is to watch the movie.

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You see, Dusty is this cute little crop duster who’s bored with, well, dusting. He wants to be more. He wants to race. Of course, the other planes think that’s absurd, because how can a crop duster compete with jets and planes that are built for speed?

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But Dusty trains, and works hard, and does his best to show everyone that you CAN do more than people expect of you. Even if you weren’t “built” for racing. And, of course, his loyal friends join him along the journey.

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I asked my son what his favorite part of the movie was. He said it was when Dusty got repaired (after an incident – don’t want to spoil it). My son was so excited to see all the different airplanes, see them flying around and doing amazing flying tricks!

This might just be another one for the library when it comes out on DVD. I bet our youngest will enjoy it by that time, too. (Not sure my 2-year-old can sit in a theater that long, so his viewing may have to wait.)

I’m glad we didn’t wait to see it. The animation is – as always – amazing. And the 3D is great. It’s perfect for a movie like that.

If you wonder whether you should see it in the theater, go for it! We had a really great time.

Want to see a preview of the movie, if you haven’t already?

And here’s one more:

You can also check out RSN on YouTube for even more videos: http://www.youtube.com/RacingSportsNetwork

There are some fun things to do from the movie, too.

Download Race to the Finish! Activities

Download Coloring & Connect the Dots

And if you want all of this cool stuff in one place, then you’ll want to bookmark FlewTube. It has things like this:

  • Planes Trailers & Clips
  • Paper Airplane Tutorials
  • Features on Remote Controlled Flyer enthusiasts
  • Introductions to parts of a plane
  • Flight-related Disney legacy content

One last thing. There are games, too! Of course there are games.

If you haven’t already, give your kids the chance to take flight with the characters from Disney’s PLANES in two immersive games available now on the web!

Final disclosure: While we went to a press preview, we paid for all our food. I am already on Disney’s blogger email list, so I get emails with these types of links to free downloads and I chose to use them in my post. Opinions about the movie are my own; I was not asked to do anything more than provide a link to my review.

5 ways to save on your energy bill with SDG&E

Last month I got the chance to visit the SDG&E Energy Innovation Center up in Clairemont. I used to live down the hill, but haven’t been back over to the area. I was surprised and delighted to see that they’ve revamped an old shopping center into a pretty cool place. Just look at it:

And even cooler? They have solar panels in their parking lot that FOLLOW the SUN.

So I was pretty impressed with the setup by the time I got inside. And then I saw something that both of my boys would be gaga over:

That is a GIANT fan. So cool.

Anyway. The reason I was actually there was to learn about SDG&E rates and how we can save energy by making even small changes around the house.

To give a little background, your bill is calculated (very simple version) like this:

rate x usage = your bill

SDG&E does not make money based on how much energy we use. It has no financial gain in encouraging us to use more electricity. Instead it makes money on investing in its infrastructure (but still regulated by a formula). Utilities are HEAVILY regulated. They are given a set percentage of ROI.

But our rates ARE tiered, so they more you use the more you pay. And the top tiers (the ones using the most electricity) are subsidizing the lower tiers. This is also going to come into play later. Hold on.

Now, here’s where that regulation really comes into play. SDG&E can’t raise or reduce rates on its own. It’s set by the Cost of Capital proceeding. But because the last one was delayed, new rates (which are set in the General Rate Case proceeding are filed about every 3-4 years) didn’t go into effect at the beginning of 2012 when it should have. Because the commission didn’t get around to it.

What does that mean for us? It means that the year & a half delay in setting SDG&E rates is going to hit us on our bills. That 18 months or so is going to have to be made up somehow. And it’ll be made up in the form of higher rates (but spread out through 2015 so we’re not hit all at once).

And since the top 2 tiers (that would be tiers 3 & 4) pay 50% more than other tiers, it’s going to hit those with high consumption a LOT harder. If you want to find out more about the rates, you can go to sdge.com/2013rates to learn more.

I tell you that to prepare you for what’s hitting our electric bills in September. And I’m also telling you that so you’ll get serious about saving energy. Like, RIGHT NOW. If you do a few easy things, you can start to reduce your bill. And believe me when I say some of these are super easy to do. Here are FIVE super-duper easy tips to save some money right now.

1) First, sign up online so you can look at your bill on SDG&E’s site (sdge.com). Then you can download this SUPER COOL app that helps analyze your energy and see when your usage is highest, as well as see your usage over time. Do you do laundry during peak hours? (Stop it.) Your usage will probably spike a bit during that time. (Note: although you aren’t charged more for using power during the day, it is a peak usage time. And during “Reduce your use” days, SDG&E will ask you not to use major appliances at that time, change your thermostat setting, turn off lights, etc. So if you get in the habit now, you’ll have less to worry about on those days during the summer where high usage is a big issue.) The SDG&E reps showed us the app and it’s really sweet how much info you can see. I am going to do that right when I’m done with this post.

2) Replace your bulbs NOW. I hate CFLs to be honest (I use dimmer switches, y0). But considering that lighting can be up to 20% of home energy use, I’m going to consider going to LED bulbs instead. Yes, they are still a bit pricey. But they last a really long time. So your savings from not buying bulbs all the time and lowering your bill will help mitigate that expense.


I mean, look at the bulb choices! So much to use other than incandescent.

3) Use Smart power strips and save up to $300 a year by shutting down those energy vampires in your home. You know, all the computer & phone charges that continue drawing power when they’re plugged in? Things like printers that you don’t use all day, but there they are, plugged in, little lights flashing, sucking up your energy’s lifeblood like a Lost Boy. (If you don’t get that reference you are DEAD TO ME.)

This little puppy can save you some money (and it came in my Home Energy Upgrade Kit):

4) Adjust your thermostat to 78° during the summer months and 68° during the winter. We’ve all heard it, but how many of you actually do it? Save yourself $200 a year by just wearing a sweater during the cooler months, okay?

5) Use motion sensors with your outdoor lighting and save up to 50% on costs of running them. Turn them off at night (or use a timer to turn them off for you). Replace the high wattage security lights with LED lights, which can be just as bright but use a lot less energy. Install solar landscaping lights and save even more!

This is only the tip of what you can save. SDG&E has energy experts that can tell you more ways to reduce your use. And on their website, you can go through an energy evaluation that gives you easy solutions based on your DIY knowledge, time, and budget. No kidding! You can sign up for Reduce Your Use alerts and earn rewards for saving energy on certain days.

Oh, and one more thing. You can go and tour the Energy Innovation Center yourself – they’re open to the public and offer tours! I’m going to see if we can take my son’s class after school starts back up.

A big thanks to SDG&E for hosting us and giving us so much great information, as well as the Home Energy Upgrade Kit. All opinions here are my own, and if any of the info is incorrect, I’m the one that screwed it up. Thanks for reading!

Old School: Braces Then, Invisalign Now

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored, but the story and opinions are my own.

Did you have braces when you were a kid? I did not, but I probably needed them. Still do, in fact. But the last thing I want to deal with is a bunch of metal in my mouth at (almost) 40 years old. I bite the inside of my cheeks often enough as it is. I can only imagine how much worse it would be with braces.

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(Sugar Jones, getting her 80s on.)

So when I originally heard about Invisalign, I really wanted to find out more about them. I thought they were way too expensive for me. I thought old school braces were my only really option. And then I heard that Invisalign was doing an educational event, so I went to check it out.

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(Rory knows something you don’t know.)

And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Invisalign costs about the same as traditional braces, with fewer office visits. Oh, and none of those broken wire emergency visits, either. Once I was on a fishing trip with a bunch of friends, and we were out for at least an overnight trip. And yes, one of the passengers (a good friend) had braces. One of her wires CAME LOOSE and was poking her in the cheek. There was no chance of an emergency office visit. So I took some pliers and put the wire back in the bracket for her. ON A BOAT. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN. No lie.

And people wonder why I am certain I’ll never get braces. THAT RIGHT THERE is why, y’all.

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(Gigi doesn’t like the thought of food stuck in her teeth. Or you taking a photo of her eating. You pick the right one.)

And yes, it’s a great option for teens, too. Oh how I wish this had been around for me when I was a teenager. But I’m glad it’s an option when my boys are older (I think my oldest is probably going to need help when he’s old enough). And if your kid loses a tray, it’s pretty easy to reorder one. I love that, as I have a feeling that’ll be important since I have two boys that already can’t remember where they put things. :)

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(Nicole is recreating her teen look here. No need for headgear with Invisalign!)

And now that I have diet restrictions (I’m diabetic), it’s nice to know that I wouldn’t be even further restricted with Invisalign, because you can take the trays out while you eat. That is AWESOME.
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(Maggie and me – birthday sisters)

One important thing I learned is that not all dentists are certified Invisalign providers, so make sure you use the doctor locator to find a provider near you.

As I get older, I do think about how I’d love to get rid of the annoying overbite I have. I would love that so VERY much! So my next step is to find a provider near me and talk to them about payment plans. While it’s still not cheap, advances in technology are moving so fast that it’s getting more affordable. And doggone it, I need to take care of me once in a while. I think this is something I would be very happy doing for myself.

And if I do, I will let you know!

Xtreme Customz by Ridemakerz: It’s a hit!

I had the chance to host MommyParties, sponsored by Ridemakerz Xtreme Customz. We hosted 10 boys and their moms for a fun car-themed party. And let me tell you, these “carz” were a huge hit.

xtreme customz by ridemakerz

I didn’t tell my son ahead of time that we were having a party or what it was about. He is mad about cars and I knew he’d beg me for days to open the box. So I waited to tell him the night before and it was almost too much for him to bear. :)

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Some of the boys were new friends, as I knew their moms but my son hadn’t met their sons. He was ecstatic. That’s him above.

All of the boys had a great time opening the boxes and assembling their Xtreme Customz cars. The target age range for these cars is 5-7 and I’d say that’s about right. The cars need some assembly: you snap the chassis into the body, add the tires & wheels & accessories. Some of the pieces are held in the package by clear little rubber bands, so keep that in mind when you open them.

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The cars are a little hard for your young one to assemble by themselves. They’re going to need some help getting everything out of the package and put together. And some models were easier than others were.

Once the boys got their cars together, it was nothing but car noises and races and crashes galore. They had a ball running all over our clubhouse with their Xtreme Customz. It was seriously loud with that many boys running around, but it was a good chaos. :)

boys playing with Xtreme Customz

The boys put them through the paces, crashing them off of the stairs and pool table, and even into each other. Although a piece would come off here & there, they easily popped them back on and kept going. I think only one small accessory broke (and that was during assembly) out of all of the cars. And these boys weren’t exactly gentle with their cars. :)

They played contentedly for at least 45 minutes — uninterrupted. And all the moms told me that their boys continued to play with their cars after they got home, too. That speaks to how cool these cars are. I think my son slept with his car for several nights after as well.

assembling Xtreme Customz

I’ve been a pretty big fan of Ridemakerz for a while already. I think we have 4 or 5 of their regular line of cars. These new Xtreme Customz are much smaller and start at a better price point – $9.99. You should be able to find them at Target and Toys R Us. (I even found them at Amazon.)

They were a big hit with all the boys. In fact, my almost 3-year-old has been trying to grab it and play with it, so I think there might be more Xtreme Customz in our future. Ridemakerz makes a good product. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to others. I may or may not have one (or two) of my own that the boys are NOT allowed to play with. Maybe. ;)

Full disclosure: We received a kit of 10 cars. All the boys got a car at no charge, and I was asked to post & share. I participated because I really like Ridemakerz. :)

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Review: Graco SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40

Last week I went to a #GracoSafety home party where I got to check out a SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40. I’ve been a fan of Graco for a long time. In fact, my oldest has a Graco car seat because it has the highest weight rating I could find for a 5-point harness seat: 65 lbs. And that’s a huge comfort considering my son was so big he outgrew his infant car seat way early – I wanted to make sure he didn’t outgrow this one before he hit four years old.

Which brings me back to the new SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40 – it is rear-facing up to 40 lbs. Oh, how I could have used that when my oldest was a wee babe! My youngest is still under 40 lbs. (and my back is so, so grateful for that as I put him in and out of his seat every morning), so he can fit in this seat – without getting scrunched.

You see, the base of this seat is adjustable, so your child can have additional legroom as s/he grows. So you have fewer worries about their knees being halfway to their chest. And it has a little footrest that they can put their tootsies on – great for protecting your seats from those toddler shoes.

#GracoSafety snugride 40

(Danielle & I inspecting the seat. Photo from SITS.)

What were we looking at? There’s an adjustment for the headrest, which also moves the straps. NO MORE RETHREADING STRAPS. Cue angel choirs singing – that is one of my least favorite things about car seats.So why IS it a big deal that this seat can go from infant to two years old in rear-facing mode? Because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children now stay rear facing until the age of two. And while I’ve seen seats that are rear-facing, I’ve never seen one that goes from infant all the way up to two that does that. And with the adjustable straps, you have an easy-to-use seat that will keep your kiddo in the safest position for them.

#GracoSafety(Closer view of the seat.)

And I love this seat so much that I’m giving it to a friend who has an infant (I think he’s close to 2 months old now) so she can be sure that he’s safe all the way up until he’s a toddler. She’s a first time mom and I’m hoping that it gives her one less thing to worry about. And since it’s from Graco, I feel confident that it’ll be reliable and comfortable for her precious little cargo.

The Graco SnugRide® Click Connect™ 40 – the first and only newborn to two-year infant car seat that actually grows with your baby from four pounds all the way up to 40 pounds. The car seat is designed for a parent on the go. The infant car seat can be easily removed from the base and used as a carrier when the infant is small, providing portability and convenience so you can easily move your infant in and out of the car without disturbing them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently made the recommendation to keep all children in rear-facing car seats until the age of 2. Graco set out to make this product so parents can keep infants rear facing longer while still keeping them comfortable.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Graco. The opinions and text are all mine.

A review of Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender

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Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender
A Life in Pictures
by Sean O’Hagan
Publication Date: Oct. 16th, 2012

I recently received a review copy of the fantastic book pictured here. And I was super excited to see it arrive on my doorstep. Freddie Mercury is one of my favorite musical artists of all time. I grew up listening to Queen. One of the very first Homecoming games I ever went to had We Will Rock You as the theme. (I think we did We Are the Champions one year as well.) In fact, for many years I had the buttons they handed out with our mascot and the Homecoming theme written on it. Ahem. ANYWAY, did I mention how much I love Queen?

I have to admit that I had heard Bohemian Rhapsody for years and years. I liked it, of course, but I really got to know it all over again in Wayne’s World. Yep. I was in college (the first time) and a friend loved that movie so very much I think we watched it in the neighborhood of 25 times. Maybe more.

In the years to follow, I rediscovered so many Queen songs: You’re My Best Friend, Death on Two Legs, Killer Queen, Flash Gordon (yep, even saw the movie), I Want to Break Free, Another One Bites the Dust (ooh, wait, I think that was a Homecoming theme song, too!), Bicycle, Under Pressure, Fat Bottomed Girls…. Really, I could keep going.

When you first open the book, there’s a great history of Freddie Mercury and Queen. And I absolutely loved the section that talked about the amazing infectious qualities to Bohemian Rhapsody. (Another aside – I didn’t know who Scaramouche was until my college English Lit classes.) Some really good stuff.

And then, you reach the photos. So beautiful and touching. I was a little sad looking through them, it made me miss him and his music so much. But it is also a wonderful tribute to Freddie. There are some stunning photos in there, with bits and pieces of Freddie’s history woven throughout. I haven’t even gotten to the audio interviews yet, I’ve been so lost in the photographs.

If you are a fan of Freddie Mercury and / or Queen, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. It’s still sitting on my desk, waiting for me to flip through it again. It’s definitely a keeper.

[I have one very small quibble - the descriptions next to the photos are in a fairly small print. As my eyes get older (hey, I'm not OLD, old, but still, the 40 bus is about to hit me, okay?) I find it harder to read really small print. We're talking smaller than normal book print. So grab your reading glasses - you might need them. Not that we fans of Freddie are aging or anything. Not at all.]

For days after I first cracked it open, I thought about how much Queen’s music has been a part of my life. I even listened to a playlist that Sondra set up on Spotify, and fired up their rotation on my iPod. Bittersweet, but beautiful. As one of my friends commented on my photo of the book when I posted it to Facebook:

“Greatest Rock Voice Ever”

I think that says it all.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher, Insight Editions. Opinions are my own. Book link uses my Amazon affiliate account.

And the Hullabaloo winner is…

Drum roll…

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Holy cow, Rory, that was YOUR comment! Emailing you now. Congrats!

And thanks to everyone who entered. We hope we’ll still see you there. Come say hi – I’ll be the mom with the frazzled look chasing two boys almost 5 and almost 2. (HA – see if you can spot me in a crowd of similar-looking [frazzled] moms. Go ahead.)

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Giveaway: Hullabaloo Family Arts Festival

I love family activities. I don’t think we do enough of them. Our work schedules are crazy and it’s hard to find that family time together, but I really want to. I want to build great family memories for our kids. Things they’ll sit around and laugh about when they’re older, but look back on fondly.

So I’m trying to find fun things to do with them (that involve more than our typical trips to the swap meet on the weekends). And I’m really looking forward to taking the boys to the Hullabaloo Family Arts Festival on the 22nd – especially since it’s right in our neighborhood! There will be music, food, dancing, a creativity zone, and even some authors reading their children’s books.

And to share the excitement, we’re going to give away some tickets.

Hullabaloo Family Arts Festival

Date: Saturday, September 22nd

Time: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: Liberty Station NTC Promenade, also know as the North Promenade

Admission: $7 per person; children under the age of 1 are free; Family Pack of tickets: $25 for up to five family members total (note: due to a technical snag with our ticket vendor, we are not able to offer the family-pack online. Families can purchase them the day of, or we will be selling them at a few of Steve’s shows in the next few weeks.)

But don’t worry, if you don’t win tickets, you can still buy online and skip the lines when you get there!

Oh, wait. I bet you want to know what you’ll win, don’t you? Well get ready, because it’s quite a package, and I might just be a little, teeny bit jealous. Maybe.

Each giveaway winner will receive:

- one Family Pack of tickets, good for up to 5 people (children under 1 year are free)
- A FREE copy of Hullabaloo’s newest CD, Raise a Ruckus!
- A Clif Kid goodie bag
- A free pass to Mon Petit Chateau, good for a one-day visit, up to three children (siblings only)
- one $50 gift card to Renewal By Andersen Windows
- 1 pass to Smart Kids Time, courtesy of SoCal Kids San Diego
- 1 family pass to the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, also courtesy of SoCal Kids San Diego
- $20 of babysitting services from Urban Sitter!

Giveaway winners will collect their giveaway prize when admitted to the festival- they will go through the will-call line.

And here are some of the great sponsors of the event; I hope that you’ll thank them if you go. I know I’ve been needing a sitter and have heard good things about Urban Sitter, so it’s high time I went and checked them out. (No affiliate or paid links here, people.)

Mon Petit Chateau: http://www.mpchateau.com/

Urban Sitter: https://www.urbansitter.com/

SoCal Kids SD: http://socalkidssandiego.com/

Renewal By Andersen: http://www.renewalbyandersen.com/

Dance to EvOLvE: http://dancetoevolve.com/dancetoevolve-home/

Okay, so you want the rules, I bet. It’s simple. Leave a comment to enter. I’ll use a random number generator to choose the winner. Contest ends at 9pm on next Wednesday the 12th. I need to have the names in by Friday, so if the winner doesn’t respond by Thursday, I’ll choose another. Sorry, I know that’s short turnaround, but I’ll do my best to reach the winner. Please confirm that you’ll be able to make the festival, as that’s where you’ll get all of the additional goodies. Ready? Go! We’ll see you there!

In return for the giveaway, we get entry into the festival. That’s it. It’s a cool event that we’re glad to see come to Liberty Station.

When I’m not here, I’m there

I’ve been writing elsewhere a bit and wanted to share a couple of recent posts. I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to go over & leave a little comment love!

First, I went to Sonoma County for Travel Mamas, and wrote about my adventures there. Now I totally want to go on a romantic retreat with hubby.
Fun for couples along the Wine Road in Sonoma County

And then I wrote about my favorite social media management tool, Sprout Social, for Fandom Marketing. PS) There’s a t-shirt giveaway, so please go and enter!
How Sprout Social helps brands spread the love