Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sugar Factory- Restaurant Accessorizes the Sweets

Last night was the grand opening of a new novelty restaurant, The Sugar Factory on Ocean Drive in South Beach.  As a local business owner who frequents these restaurants/bars for my popular cocktail tour,  I was invited to attend the festivities.  I attended with my lead tour guide James Cubby, who is also a writer for various tourist related magazines.

The Sugar Factory, as the name denotes, screams sugar and sweets. And they know how to pop! From the shiny colored pearl gumballs, to the bedazzled shelves and yellow rubber ducks, bright and eye-catching are understatements.

So on our way upstairs, we were greeted by a Willy Wonka-esque model garnished with a giant lollipop.  And that is a Candy tree to the right of me, not to be mistaken for a Christmas tree. (note to self: I want this costume for Halloween!)

Candy model with Christine Michaels

But the main attraction tonight was reality celebrity, Kylie Jenner, daughter of Bruce-now-Caitlyn Jenner. Apparently the Kardashian/Jenner families are big supporters and fans of the chain. I watch very little television and I have never watched the Kardashian reality TV series but I catch updates on news and late night comedy shows given their pervasive stratospheric celebrity status.

Kylie at the Sugar Factory in Chicago

Teenage fans armed and ready with cell phone cameras ready for Kylie's arrival

After our red carpet pose, (click here for Grand Opening highlights) and mingling with other VIP guests, to relieve our hunger pangs, James and I escaped the paparazzi and swarm of teenagers (there to photograph the celebrity invitee, Kylie Jenner) to the restaurant. We entered from the hotel lobby. To the right was the main entrance of Sugar Factory.

Bedazzled duck and yellow rubber ducks
A photo of Khloe Kardashian hangs on back wall
A signature candy are the embellished couture pops with a "green" angle.

Sugar Factory's Couture Pops have a reusable, plastic bedazzled stick and sucker-saving plastic top. At first I frowned then  I turn to spot my bedazzled calculator even diamond covered measuring tape. I suppose I will need that couture lollipop stick after all!  It's actually brilliant idea combining a simple candy to an adorned holder, like the waffle cone for the ice cream. But this is flashy, a true accessory.

Soon I learned why there are images of the Kardashian sisters throughout the candy store. They have endorsed and launched several Sugar Factory store openings.

Kim Kardashian dressed in 1920's attired for Sugar Factory opening in Washington DCs Union Station

Sugar Factory’s Couture Pops have become a celebrity favorite since their conception in 2009. Pop stars such as Britney Spears, Eva Longoria, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Drake and more have been spotted throughout the years with the candy company’s famous lollipops.

Katy Petty and Rihanna enjoy Couture Pops

As we're dining in the restaurant, the screams heightened as Kylie Jenner entered and made her rounds through the candy section and settled at a nearby booth.

A tender 17 year old, and a natural beauty without makeup, Kylie looked like a mini Kim, the hair, makeup and the revealing dress. Kim wore a similar fitting décolleté  suit on the Jimmy Kimmel show. I wish I could whisper to her to expand her wings and flex her creative muscles and develop her own style.

Kylie clearly unsure about these sizzlers

The dessert sampling was awkward all the way around. From her "I can't believe I'm doing this" pout expression while holding a sizzler, to her one arm constantly covering her right breast, you wondered if this was her first time wearing a revealing dress of if she feared a malfunction."Own it Kylie!"

Between the sizzler and her dress, Kylie looked like she wanted to escape

The dress

Once the sampling was over, she perked up and photobombed a girl's selfie.  Shrieks erupted.

Fans turn around and take selfies with Kylie seated behind them.

James and I were more fascinated watching and photographing these teenagers scrambling and angling to get a photo of Kylie.  Their smiles, giggles, expressions... I hope they would do the same for a  smart, independently successful famous woman as well.

After our dinner, we tried to leave and were trapped.  At every exit the security guard sent us to another exit only to have the next security guard tell us the same thing.  Finally I insisted they pick a door to let us out. The doors opened and hundreds of faces with arms and cell phones extended clicking away. It was surreal.  Instead of paper and pen extended for autographs it's all about the photo, and the possible selfie. The security guard cleared a path for us. My gosh. I actually thanked God that I was not famous.  My freedom and privacy are golden.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Miami Girl Goes Country in Nashville

City girl Christine Michaels Nashville Tennessee
Miami Girl Goes Country
Another year gone by and another BlogPaws pet conference (related to my nonprofit for pets and blogging efforts). This year it was held in Nashville, TN. I have to say I felt like a kid going to Disney World for the first time and I had no idea why I was so excited. But then I realized this trip had all the ingredients of my favorite things-- seeing all my online pet blogging friends (we communicate year round online); attending seminars to learn new tips and techniques to improve my writing/blogging efforts; and getting to explore a new city and culture AND taking someone else's tour; a reason to go shopping; AND a reason to get into character (wear cowboy hat and boots). I love costumes and dressing up; there's something alluring about the cowboy theme--all Americana, ruggedly handsome men, songs where you can understand the lyrics, polite people...! Yes this was a great trip and a bigger surprise was in store for me towards the end!

As I paraded through the Miami airport, heads were turning. Purely for my pronounced outfit--my cowboy hat and boots were screaming "country".  Homeland security officers along the walkway asked me if I were going to Texas. I said "No the other "T"--Tennessee, Nashville". "Aah yes", they nodded. As a marketing lover, Branding is my favorite role.

From the airplane on our descent into Nashville, immediately I noticed the rolling green hills, manicured lawns, and friendly smiles. Nashville oozes southern hospitality and charm and also carries a celebrity vibe given that it's home to Opryland, the greatest country singers. The ABC television series, "Nashville" is also filmed in the namesake city.

TV SERIES Nashville --

 As a fan of the ABC TV series Nashville, I've come to learn a lot about the culture of the city. Country music is the heart and soul of Nashville. No bones about it!

On Thursday afternoon, a couple of blogging friends from the conference and I signed up for the bus tour of sites filmed for the TV series.  Unfortunately the Ryman auditorium was closed but we visited the "homes" of characters like Scarlett, Will and Deacon.  The homes are privately owned and rented to ABC studios during filming season from November to April.  Production costs are therefore higher and I was surprised to learn that Connie Britton only makes $100,000 per episode.

Scarlett's house

Deacon Claybourne's house

99% of the tour was on the bus so picture taking through the bus windows was not ideal. The buses are not permitted to stop and unload.  With so many stops, it makes sense.  However, we were permitted to go and sit inside the original Bluebird Cafe.  It was here that one true life artist was discovered after he was rejected more times than a guitar has strings.  His name is Garth Brooks. Another artist, Taylor Swift also caught her break at the Bluebird.  The cafe is so popular and packed each night that ABC had to recreate it in a studio. According to the long-time manager the stage crew took the tables clothes, napkins and other objects for an authentic replication.

A Visit to the Grand Ole Opry

After our Nashville tour, I could not wait to visit the Grand Ole Opry. 

Grand Ole Opry tour
Christine Michaels in front of Grand Ole Opry House sign

The Grand Ole Opry is a temple for recognizing, honoring and celebrating the best country music singers. Prior to its current location, the "Mother Church" was located at the Ryman Theater in 1943 which also housed other events and productions. The Ryman was home until 1974 when a new stage was built right outside of Nashville in the themed Opryland where hotels, outlet mall and restaurants exude the Opry spirit. 

Deb Barnes and Christine Michaels

Main entrance doors to public

While there are 19 numbered rooms, there are physical only 18 dressing rooms. The number 13 was skipped for superstition. 

Minnie Pearl's dressing room
Another ladies dressing room


Green Room

Christine Michaels green room Grand Ole Opry
"Ready for my performance! Too bad I can not sing. But I can line dance!"


In an effort to maintain continuity with the Opry's storied past, a large circle was cut from the floor of the Ryman stage and inlaid into the center of the new Opry stage. During our tour we stood on the stage and the circle.  I  almost expected a lightning bolt to zap me for standing on that hallowed circle given my lack of singing ability.

Cat ladies Grand Ole Opry

Sadly a devastating flood in Nashville in 2010 caused massive damage to the Grand Ole Opry including the stage. Miraculously, the circle was untouched.  The circle was not broken.  It was lovingly preserved during the round-the-clock renovations. Having performed on stage (as a classical dancer), gazing up at the seating, despite the blinding spotlight, I could see the crowds,  feel their gaze, their embrace, hear the thunderous applause, the appreciation of the performance and artistry, the acceptance into a family. There's no feeling in the world to compare it. How I miss performing.

Girls Honky Tonk Night Out

Now that we saw Nashville in the daytime, it was time to experience the downtown at night.
So what do I wear--a Victoria's Secret sundress with cowboy boots.  Yes I'm representing Miami proudly with a nod to Nashville. I even brought my cowgirl hat but Rachel wants to visit a souvenir shop and what do I find?  A PINK COWBOY HAT! Now I expect this in Miami, but did not expect it in Nashville. Of course I purchased it and wore it that evening. Why not?!

Christine Michaels finds pink hat in Nashville
 Of course who else do I run into outside the souvenir shop in Nashville, but Elvis! OK a wax Elvis.  He wanted to dance. But of course!  Ill let him lead.
Christine Michaels Miami Elvis Presley Nashville Blogpaws
Dancing with Elvis Presley

Now I was ready for Tootsie's the most famous dive bar in Nashville.

Deb Barnes & Christine Michaels at Tootsie's bar in downtown Nashville

After one drink, the night is young, we stepped outside and headed left and came across a boot shop.
Oooh I love boots. This could be very dangerous. Thankfully I have a strong will.

Price is Right beauty showing off the boot

cowboy boots fashion Nashville
We found our favorite boots! Mine has pink, Deb's boot has leopard design.

boots shopping Nashville
I'm inlove and hate to part ways

After window boot shopping, hunger pangs struck and we headed to Ripley's for pulled pork with BBQ sauce and fries. When in Rome...Mouthwatering!

As we headed back to pick up the transportation bus to our hotel, we passed several bars. We had a long wait for the bus and it started pouring rain. While we sought shelter under the overhang of a building, I could hear music playing across the street.  I told the girls I would return in literally 15 minutes.  But then I stayed. I was going to savor every sight, taste and sound of Nashville.

Legend's Corner Bar
For someone who doesn't listen to country music this band was great!
Kept me toe-tapping.

What a great intro to Nashville for a brief  three day conference. I will definitely be returning for more sightseeing and culture!

For an all around review of the conference, visit Pawsitively Humane.
For a cat-centric review of the conference, visit Riverfront Cats.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When a Miami girl gets ready for Nashville

On my balcony in downtown Miami

So I'm headed out of town for a yearly conference. And in being true to myself (the branding specialist and fashionista) it's all about the outfits. So while this is a pet blogging conference and most attendees are scrambling to get their pet paraphernalia  in order, I'm shopping like crazy looking for fashion accessories. Given that I care for 30+ pets (my own, stray, rescue pets), I spend plenty on their care. Like a single mom escaping her kids for a few days, this trip is my efforts as a blogger to raise awareness for stray cats. But I'm also nominated for an award, so "presentation" is everything.  This year, we're headed to NASHVILLE, TN.

For those of you who follow me on social media you know I love hats, so much that I will be needing a hat closet--the hats are overtaking the purses. Finding a hat that fits my small head is a rarity. So when I stumbled up on this expensive but gorgeous hat at a boutique store in Key West, I knew I had to have it. Is it worth $190? Well, it fit like Cinderella's slipper, snug and perfect.  So which prince charming placed this hat on my head?  Read on! 

If the hat fits...

And the boots?  

Trying on my first pair of fashion cowboy boots   

And my prince charming? The only men in my household are cats.  So here is Johnny Walker studying the hat. So yes the bikini is new. They both fit. Always carry a spare bikini. Never know when a beach or pool will appear.

Johnny Walker studies hat

Off to Nashville, TN.  Stay tuned to my nonprofit websites for updates!