Thursday, January 24, 2013

my favorite {Charlotte} things - Kennedy's on Monday Nights

I have a confession to make. As a kid I hated Chinese food and shellfish. At Chinese restaurants all I would eat was rice. Plain white rice. May be an occasional eggroll. May be. Throw in the fact that they served shellfish and it was enough to make me run for the door. I was 10 years old and couldn’t really go any further than out the door, into the cold harsh winter of San Jose, CA.

I hope you know I’m kidding about the cold harsh winter…

Over the years, my pallet matured and I quickly realized what I was missing out on. First came the love for Chinese food and then, in my late teens, the love for shellfish. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I fell in love with lobster.

My family quickly figured out that we had to go to Chinese buffets during the weekend if we want to enjoy all-you-can-eat shrimp and crab legs. The boiled shrimp on ice never disappointed, however, the crab legs were not something to write home about to the motherland. You considered yourself lucky if you managed to snag a set of legs from the long lines of people waiting to get their share from the small pan on the buffet. Or, the buffet was completely dead and the legs have sat under a heating lamp for hours. When you got back to your table you quickly realized that they were overcooked, difficult to eat, and not that tasty.

Our other option was to wait till the local grocery stores competed for our crab leg business by selling them between $3-5 per pound. Those were the days! We would buy a minimum of five pounds for the three of us and cook them all at once and devour them as quickly as we could. However, the tasty hot goodness didn’t last for long. It takes a while to eat five pounds and the legs get cold, fast. The joy was short lived.

Crab legs haven’t been on sale in a while and the last time we made a batch (a very large batch at that) we fell into the ice cold crab legs funk.

Our last crab feast at home in June of 2012... that large pot was filled to the brim with crab legs, corn, potatoes, and sausage. Ten pounds of food for two people.

So we evolved and found a new way to enjoy all you can eat, perfectly cooked, hot and delicious crab legs without having to clean up the mess.

After reading countless reviews and scouting locations we decided on Kennedy’s Premium Bar & Grill on Caswell in Elizabeth. Our first visit was last October for our one year wedding anniversary. It was a quiet Monday night and we opted to sit at the counter facing the bar and the TVs so hubs could watch the football game. It was perfect. The $25 got us a house salad with all-you-can-eat hushpuppies and crab legs. The legs came out in sets of two and the waitress was proactive in asking us if we wanted a re-order. We did. Each time they came out steaming hot and we definitely overindulged.

We went back again this past Monday with our good friends and the restaurant was packed! We elected to sit at the counter again so we could get our hands on the legs with as little wait as possible. The service was fantastic and the legs even more so. I made it through four reorders before throwing in the napkin.

We’ll definitely come back again in the summer, when the patio is open and we can enjoy our legs during the warm summer nights in Charlotte.

Round one.

Bucket #4.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 the {Queen City Travel}

I traveled quite a bit last year and there was a joke among my Instagram and Twitter followers that my handle of inthequeencity needed to be changed to outofthequeencity. Now there's a new blog idea! (As if I need another blog idea...)

I am starting a new series called the {Queen City Travel}. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to travel for both work and pleasure. I still find romance in all of my adventures regardless of all the un-glamorous moments we have to put up with (TSA, delays, people in pajamas). I want to share my adventures and my love for travel with you.

The first photo that I am featuring is from my travels to my birth city of Saint Petersburg, Russia in the summer of 2005. In my eyes, it's the most beautiful city in the world. This particular picture was taken the moment I finally saw the familiar blue green facade of the Hermitage. My heart skipped a beat and my eyes got misty. I basically grew up in the museum. It was my most favorite place as a kid and I missed it terribly for the twelve years that I was away from it.

Hermitage. Saint Petersburg, Russia. June, 2005.

It has been eight years since I've last stepped foot in Russia and I dream of going back soon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Motivation – MLK Day

Today’s whiteboard quote.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – MLK

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rain Rain Go Away! - Week in Review

Another week has flown by and it’s finally Friday! If you’re anything like me you’re probably trying to figure out how to squeeze in everything that didn’t get accomplished before the clock strikes 5pm and it’s time to go home.

This week I had to make a tough decision and I hope that my gut is right. I finally had the opportunity to come out to #SMCLT’s happy hour and meet some amazing people and catch up with those I’ve already met. I learned about Intellectual Property laws at the Charlotte AMA meeting on Wednesday and enjoyed “Book Club” with my girlfriends last night. Oh, and I’ve also blogged THREE TIMES this week (counting this post). That’s pretty amazing in and of itself.

Today I’m going to be stalking my bff on Twitter as she graces the stage at the New York Times Travel Show for a panel discussion on social media and the travel industry and take it easy tonight. We have a busy weekend ahead of us!

And now for the short and sweet (M-Th) week in review:

It rained on Monday… Tuesday... Wednesday… Thursday…

The traffic on Monday morning was so bad on I-77SB that I made the executive decision to add 10 minutes to my commute and possibly save 30. I was rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise, a different view of Uptown, and getting to work on time.

I’ve moved into an office a couple of weeks ago. My old cubicle is still full of stuff, stuff, and more stuff. I’ll finish moving, eventually.

I collect books but don’t read them. Except for these.
My Moleskin has become my new favorite obsession. My short term memory is gone. There was an article on how we will no longer remember things, just where to find them. That future is now. I’m trying to write things down so I don’t forget them.

Speaking of Moleskin, they have a great website with these awesome PDFs that you can print out and add to your journals/planners/etc. The recipe planner is amazing and I love the international size chart.

Monday night I went to the SMCLT happy hour, devoured sushi, and talked to amazing people. I left inspired.

Tuesday I braved road closings due to railroad maintenance and heavy traffic so I could get my hands on some pelmeni, or Russian dumplings. I haven’t had any in forever and I’m bringing them to the Epic Eaters Eat in Month Potluck. Or #EEEMP for short. I made one batch for dinner to make sure that I still remembered how to boil water and throw them into the pot. Thankfully, I’ve still got it!

If you want to get your hands on these delicious little morsels, head to A&A International on Independence. The store is one of my favorite things about Charlotte.

I ate at Vietnam Grille twice this week.
#26 and #33

Brought a bag full of pelmeni to book club last night to not only share the goodness with my girlfriends but to also practice cooking them one more time before #EEEMP.

I don’t have any pictures of the snow. All we got was thundersnow and a slushy mix in the University area. Bummer, I know.

How was your week? Any fun plans for this weekend?

P.S. Theo asked if he can blog about his week here on my blog and I might just let him…

Thursday, January 17, 2013

my favorite {Charlotte} things - LaVida Massage at the Promenade

Last week was a bit stressful… nothing I can share at this moment in time because it is yet to be determined what will come out of it (Vague is my middle name). So it was perfect timing that I had a one hour massage and a one hour facial scheduled for last Saturday at LaVida Massage at the Promenade.

I carry all of my stress in my shoulders and constantly suffer from back pain. Wearing high heels, carrying a 30 pound purse and sitting at a desk all day doesn’t help either. On more than one occasion, a clinical specialist recommended that I get massages frequently for the sake of my health and sanity. Unfortunately, getting frequent massages has not been on my radar because I assumed all establishments charged resort level fees and the monthly membership places were scams, like the gym… once you sign up you can’t get out. You know what happens when you assume… right? But more on that later.

My appointment was at one o’clock but I recommended that you show up 10 minutes early to fill out paperwork. When I arrived I was greeted by sweet Christina at the front and was right away offered water or tea. I took her up on the offer to hydrate before my session. The paperwork is not as involved as it may sound. You fill in basic information and a brief health history, but nothing like you would at a doctor’s office. Massage therapists are healers and they need to know certain things so they know how to help you but also how not to hurt you.

I was whisked away promptly at one o’clock to the therapy area by my therapist, Sydney. She asked me what type of pressure I prefer and I let her know where my problem areas were (shoulders & wrist injury). She left the room so that I could get undressed and under the sheets. My biggest personal issue when getting a massage is that I can’t stop thinking about stressful things and remembering to breathe. The bed was heated and felt heavenly and I quickly felt my body relax and my mind started to drift with the music playing in the room. Perfection. She worked my muscles like a true therapist, concentrating on my problem areas and paying special attention to my injured wrist. It felt like time slowed down… a feeling I don’t get to enjoy often.

I’ve had my share of massages in my life. They have ranged from horrible to absolutely amazing. Let me tell you, I was putty by the time Sydney was done with me. Walking and talking proved to be difficult. It was that good. But they weren’t done with me yet! Next up was my one hour facial with Glen-with-one-N.

This was my first facial ever and I had no clue what to expect. Once again there was a consultation prior to the service, this time about my skin type and what I do to it (SPF 15 daily and nothing else… I sleep with my makeup on, shame on me!). The combination of Swedish and European Russian blood has served me well so I have been pretty lucky when it comes to my skin. I do break out on occasion but thankfully most of my breakouts happened during my teen years. Once again I stripped to my skivvies, got on the heated bed, closed my eyes, and let Glen-with-one-N take care of me. Glen was very good about letting me know what he was doing to me but without talking too much that I couldn’t relax (I have a horror story from the time I got an overpriced massage in Vegas...!).

His hands were magic. MAGIC! The treatment was fantastic. He used a steamer on my face that smelled like the Amazon. I thought I was relaxed after my massage but this put me over the edge of relaxation. But the amazingness did not end there. While my mask was setting, Glen gave me a foot massage that topped the one I got in Beijing in 2008. Yes, I remember things like that.

I was drunk on relaxation and didn’t think I would be able to drive by the time my sessions were over. It also made me realize that I need to get a massage more often to wipe away the stress.

Stress kills.

Remember that massage membership assumption I mentioned earlier? It was wiped away, just like my stress. LaVida offers a no pressure, month-to-month membership that is transferable. This is music to my ears because I’m always skeptical of anything membership related. This means that if I skip a month, I can have two massages or facials in one month or I can let my wonderful husband go in my place. As a member, you can also purchase additional services at a discount each month.

Some say a massage is a luxury that only a few can enjoy. I say that it is a necessity that is affordable and even covered by some insurance plans! Yeah, that’s right, you can get all or part of your massage reimbursed but you’ll have to check with your insurance company on the necessary steps to take. Don’t we all want to be healthy and happy and stress free in the new year?

Give LaVida Massage at the Promenade a try and let them melt away your stress and tell them in the Queen City sent you!

Disclosure: LaVida Massage at the Promenade provided me with their services at no charge in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wedding in the Queen City: Finding the Right Photographer

me & Jessica
(photo by JJ Horton Photography)

One of the most important aspects of a wedding is the photographer. It is also an area of the total wedding budget that gets the biggest chop on the wedding budget chopping block. To me it was in the top three, alongside the groom and the dress.

In January of 2011, my now husband and I attended the Bridal Showcase. I was lucky to have a man by my side that cared as much as I did about our big day so we braved the showcase together. It was overwhelming to say the least. I felt like I was back in Beijing, at the market, and everyone wanted to sell me something and it was an absolute sensory overload. On our shopping list that day: a photographer (even though I already had one in mind) and a location. We talked to dozens of vendors but with our small budget most of those vendors and services were out of the question. We did not want to pay $500 to preserve the bouquet (a bit of a disaster that I will write about at a later date) or $2,000 for a cake.

We met about a dozen photographers at the show. Pricewise, they ranged from $500 to $10,000+ and there were pros and cons to all of them. For example, we encountered a small handful of photographers that talked about their amazing photoshop skills and how they’re “natural light photographers.” Translation: I over process the pictures to look cheap and cheesy and don’t know how to use flash properly so the sun is my best friend. And their portfolio screamed of this, loudly. Then there were the high end photographers and photography studios that crank out some of the best work I’ve ever seen but at $7,000+ we were not able to afford them. There were not many choices in the middle.

I met Jessica in 2010 at the first ever Charlotte Blogger’s Meet Up and instantly liked her style and the fact that she had awesome business cards. We stayed in touch on Twitter and I kept up with her photography blog. Our unsuccessful search for a photographer at the Bridal Showcase pushed me even further towards her services. Her package was just what we were looking for and more, it included 12 hours and two photographers. My lovely maid-of-honor slash sister-from-another-mister gifted us with the engagement session so we were all set. Working with her was a breeze and she calmed the many fears that came about after speaking to some of the other photographers.

So here are my tips for finding the right wedding photographer:

  • Wedding photography is not something you should be “cheap” about, even if you’re a budget bride. Photography was 20% of our (some say laughable) total budget. Worth every penny.
  • Check out the photographer’s website, blog, portfolio’s, etc. Just like any business, the way they treat their own brand is the way they’ll treat you and your pictures.
  • Every photographer has their own style (composition, lighting, etc.), make sure it matches you and your vision. This is in reference for the “photoshop pros” that over process the pictures and the “natural light shooters” mentioned above.
  • Meet with the photographer in person!! They may be perfect on paper and via e-mail but may end up being someone difficult to work with in person.
  • And as a follow up to the point above, spend the extra money on an engagement shoot. An engagement shoot is not just for pictures to put on your save-the-dates, it’s an important exercise for you and your photographer to get to know each other, figure out your best side, working relationship, style, posing, etc.
  • Figure out the right package for you. It was important for us to capture the moments before the wedding so Jessica and Jeremy split up to shoot my husband and I at different locations. It was also important for us for the reception to be covered until the end. The 12 hour package was perfect because no moment went un-captured.
  • FEED YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER! And don’t feed them crap. Be kind and let them eat the food you and your guests are enjoying. They’re people too.

    No one is going to remember the food or the music or much else and at the end of the day all you have left is your husband and the pictures from your big day!

    Reach out to JJ Horton Photography if you’re looking for someone to shoot your big day, or baby, or any other photography needs. :)

  • Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    my favorite {Charlotte} things: Charlotte

    my most liked instagram photo to date :)

    My first my favorite {Charlotte} things is Charlotte itself. I have lived in this area since 1995 and have seen Charlotte grow into a beautiful, vibrant city. Just this morning I almost drove into a concrete wall while admiring the gorgeous skyline. It takes my breath away.

    There was a fantastic article published recently in the Charlotte Viewpoint titled Keeping the 'Viewpoint' in Charlotte. It outlines just how far we've come just in the last ten years.

    To think that just ten years ago I couldn't wait to get out of Charlotte and move somewhere else. Now, I can't imagine living anywhere else.

    What's your favorite thing about living in Charlotte?

    Saturday, January 5, 2013

    my favorite {Charlotte} things

    Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
    bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
    brown paper packages tied up with strings,
    these are a few of my favorite things.

    Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels,
    door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.
    Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.
    these are a few of my favorite things.

    Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
    snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
    silver white winters that melt into springs,
    these are a few of my favorite things.

    My favorite movie growing up was the Sound of Music and to this day remains in my top three. The older I got the more I understood that the movie was more than just a musical and appreciated it even more.

    I saw the movie recently during Christmas on ABC and got inspired for a new series on this blog. I live, work, and play in Charlotte. I have a tumblr where I post about {the five senses} in the Queen City. It only feels natural to show you my favorite things in the city that I love in hopes that you'll love it as much as I do.


    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    Looking Forward to Looking Back on 2013

    2012 was an interesting year. It wasn't bad but it wasn't the best either.
    There were growing pains, and post surgery pains, and other kinds of pains.
    There were celebrations of life and friendship and love.
    I've grown a bigger pair in some areas of life while in others I've retreated so far back it's scary.
    I've learned to pick my fights and know when to just let it go.
    Letting go of grudges is so freakin' liberating!
    I met a fantastic group of women that make me realize that anything is possible (I'm looking at you, #EpicEaters!).
    I was reminded that you must give to give, not give to get.
    I found ways to weave my passions into my current job and new opportunities are taking shape because of it.
    I chose to surround myself with people who push me to be a better person and less with those that drag me down.

    I came across a great Fast Company article on 10 resolutions to make to have the best year yet. The first item is definitely on my to do. Your past shouldn't hold you back but reflection is necessary.

    I can't wait to write down my dreams on pieces of paper and then figure out what it's going to take to make them come true.
    2013 is going to be a fantastic year. I can feel it.
    I'm looking forward to looking back on 2013.

    Happy New Year, friends!