Life Lately: Grateful

You guys, it's been one hell of a week. Or rather, week and a half and it's been a challenge to shake off the bad. However, at the end of the day, I am grateful that there's been so much good. This is why these ten or so days have felt like a roller coaster. One that I was ready to get off as soon as I realized I was on it.

One of the tricks that I've learned dealing with anxiety is calling it out. Talking about it openly has helped me tremendously because it loses it's power the moment it leaves my lips. I've had to do the same with all the bad this week so that I could fully enjoy the good.

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About a week and a half ago we learned that we'll have to make a tough decision in the near future. A heartbreaking one at that. I haven't been this sad in a long time and I'm having a hard time with it.

Thursday evening I did something for myself and took a Skillpop class. The class was taught by Megan of Freckled Italian and it was on the topic of monetizing a blog. It's a topic I've been exploring and it was helpful to learn about it in an organized way, rather than what I've been attempting to do on my own. I plan on blogging a full review soon. :)

After the class I ate my feelings at Pisces, my favorite sushi spot in Charlotte. I highly recommend the Screaming O roll and the catch of the day sashimi.

Mercury being in retrograde wasn't helping things. At all.

 

Easter weekend was beyond lovely filled with family, friends, and great food.

And then Monday came.

The kid injured herself. I injured myself. She was a hot mess. I was a hot mess. We had a challenging (see also: toddler tantrums) trip to the grocery store only to discover, at check out, that I didn't have my wallet. Thank God for check books and an old ID tucked away in the junk pocket of my purse. And that was all before lunch. The day was savage and didn't let up until about midnight when I found myself laughing at the absurdity of everything that had happened. I laughed so hard I cried myself to sleep. I vowed to let go of feeling like a victim of Moday by the time the sun came up the next day.

Except, the sun did not come out on Tuesday but we chose to make the best of it. It was a rainy morning so we drove up to Huntersville to spend a few hours at Discovery Place KIDS. The place was packed. I don't really like kids (I love my own and those belonging to my friends) so it was a bit overwhelming. However, Charlotte had fun and that's all that matters. 

That evening I attended Charlotte AMA's Market Charlotte event. It's the biggest event of the year for the organization and I wasn't going to miss it, especially now that I'm back on the board as the Director of Social Media for the new year starting in July. I networked, learned, and ate good food. I call that a win win win.

Wednesday was filled with more tantrums and life challenges but ended on a high note. I was lucky to spend an evening eating amazing food with even more amazing women. I was up way past my bedtime but my heart was so full that sleep didn't even matter. I was high on life.

But the high didn't last long because Thursday was another challenging day. (Are you beginning to see the roller coaster pattern yet?!) The kid was sick and I had no clue until she violently vomited all over the place, collapsed in my arms, and wouldn't let me go. This was the first of many dominoes to fall resulting in another can't-believe-this-is-all-happening-at-once laughs. That evening I stayed up till 2:30 am tending to the kid, cleaning up messes, killing ants, and working on client projects. It would have been much easier if my husband wasn't out of town...

The next morning kid woke up with a 103 fever so we spent the morning cuddling and watching Disney. We finally left the house around dinner time to order her birthday cake at Publix and to pick up take out at Zoes. I spent Friday evening working on client projects and making the house look less like a war zone before Brandon came home. 

This weekend we spent catching up on things that are important to us and taking moments to ourselves to recharge and feel like ourselves again.

We survived the roller coaster ride. 

 

There are other things going on that I did not mention, however, at the end of the day things can always be worse. A lot worse. Sometimes everything comes at us at once to test us, to prepare us for the road ahead, and to remind us of all the good in our life. I am so grateful that grateful is my word for 2017. I am grateful for my grateful journal that I have written in every single night since January 1st. I am grateful for the support team around us, whether they are here physically or not. I am grateful for the life that we are building. I am grateful for all of the opportunities we have. I am grateful for this life.

I believe in falling. I believe in feeling the pain. I believe in getting back up. I believe in dusting ourselves off. I believe in moving on.

I am moving on from all the bad that happened this week. I am stronger than I was ten days ago. I am ready for what the future brings.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Bring Back the Bees

I'm always struggling to come up with toddler friendly activities and, more often than not, I try to come with something on the fly.

My criteria is simple: minimal set-up and clean up, doesn't require anyone to take a bath after said activity is complete, inexpensive or free, hands on and educational, and fun for both of us.

Easy, right?!

Today's activity was planting wild flowers in our backyard. 

A few weeks ago I saw friends tweeting about Cheerios' #BringBacktheBees campaign so I looked into it and ordered my own pack of free wildflower seeds. According to the Cheerios website the bee population is declining, which is not good. Bees are pollinators and the crops that we eat rely on them. Without bees we also can't have honey! 

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I've always been afraid of bees because of my allergic reaction to their stings. I've gone decades avoiding getting stung but failed last fall when I got stung on the forehead right before having our photos taken for a local publication. Thankfully, I only had a mild reaction and my fear of bees has subsided.

We picked two spots in our backyard that would benefit from the wildflowers. We tilled the soil, places the seeds, covered them with plant starter soil, and watered the plots.

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After all the hard work, we rewarded ourselves by relaxing in the hammock.

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We can't wait to see the flowers grow and for the bees to come visit our yard.

 

 

A Weekend in NYC: Day 1

Remember that one time we surprised our friend for her birthday in NYC? And we jumped up and down, squealed, and hugged for at least an hour? Well, that was only the beginning...

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Once we pulled ourselves together (and I pulled out a winter hat and gloves out of my suitcase), we hit the streets hungry. Erin and I followed Adam and Katy, our fearless leaders for the weekend, to Maison Pickle where we had our first proper New York City meal. 

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We promptly ordered drinks and cheered the weekend:

Fri-YAY! 🍾

A post shared by Kseniya | birch co. (@birchcollective) on

After a round of drinks we greeted a plate of pickled vegetables with delight. 

Spicy dill, string bean, green tomatoes, and beets.

Spicy dill, string bean, green tomatoes, and beets.

I'm not a huge fan of the French Dip. May be it has something to do with that one summer I worked at Logan's Roadhouse after my freshman year of college and it was one of the dishes we served, however... Since Maison Pickle is known for theirs, I knew I could trust it to be delicious. And it was. And I drank the leftover au jus. Don't judge me until you try it yourself.

Deluxe French Dip: Fried Onions, Gruyere Fondue. Mustard smear + house pickled peppers.

Deluxe French Dip: Fried Onions, Gruyere Fondue. Mustard smear + house pickled peppers.

Dunk it, eat it, then drink it.

Dunk it, eat it, then drink it.

After lunch we refueled at Irving Farm Coffee. I got a variation of my usual latte with almond milk:

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Then we crossed the street to admire an original Banksy that the owners of the building are trying to protect with a plexiglass cover because human beings are horrible and were trying to distroy the artwork. 

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We decided to head back to the apartment to relax for a bit and plan out the rest of our afternoon, but not before a stop at Beard Papa's for a cream filled puff snack. Get the honey butter vanilla but pass on the Paris Brest. Not because the Paris Brest isn't good, but because you'll want to save room for a second honey butter vanilla cream puff. It was heavenly. 

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No trip to New York City is complete without a trip to the High Line. It's been a while since I've walked it and I was excited to see new parts, new views, and new art installations.

#wallthatunites

#wallthatunites

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Then things got a little weird when we came came face-to-face with the Sleepwalker...

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It was a little after five o'clock by the time we finished walking the High Line and we were beginning to feel a little hungry. And by we I mean me.

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We met back up with Adam (it was Friday and a work day, after all!) at Crif Dogs to get in line at Please Don't Tell, a (secret) speakeasy located inside the hot dog joint. There are two ways in, call at 3pm to make a same day reservation by phone or stand in line and "call" the host inside the phone booth (which is also the entry point to the speakeasy) and hope that you can get a table or seats at the bar. There's a no standing policy and Anthony Bourdain featured it on one of his shows so it's pretty popular.

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After standing in line and making a phone call on the red telephone, we were in! It was a little after 6pm and we were told that we can stay until 7pm because our table was previously reserved. We immediately dove into the drink menu and all chose a different drink.

I ordered the Double Crown because it's rare to see an egg white cocktail on a menu in Charlotte:

Great King Street Glasgow Scotch Whiskey Blend, Lemon Juice, Cyril Zangs Eau de Vie de Cidre, The King's Ginger, Egg White, Honey, Sage.

Great King Street Glasgow Scotch Whiskey Blend, Lemon Juice, Cyril Zangs Eau de Vie de Cidre, The King's Ginger, Egg White, Honey, Sage.

I also ordered the Chang Dog, because bacon and kimchi, and everyone else split an order of tater tots. 

Chang Dog: Bacon-Wrapped, Deep-Fried Crif Dog, Momofuku Kimchi.

Chang Dog: Bacon-Wrapped, Deep-Fried Crif Dog, Momofuku Kimchi.

Tater Tots: Cheese & Pickled Jalapeno (on the side)

Tater Tots: Cheese & Pickled Jalapeno (on the side)

Fifteen minutes till seven, the host approached us to let us know that they rearranged some things so if we wanted to stay longer, we could. And we did. And we ordered another round.

My second cocktail was the 120 Year Itch:

120 Year Itch: Few American Gin, Apple Cider Reduction, Lustau Amontillado Sherry, Lemon, Orange, Suze

120 Year Itch: Few American Gin, Apple Cider Reduction, Lustau Amontillado Sherry, Lemon, Orange, Suze

The service at Please Don't Tell was impeccable and watching the host handle the various personalities (trying to get a seat inside) with grace was impressive. 

 

We were lured to cross the street to Squish Marshmallows after a few solid cocktails. Yes, we saw the bright little light and couldn't resist the hand crafted small batch marshmallows. And y'all know we weren't about to leave the store empty handed!

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But our post cocktail sugar binge didn't end there. We made a pit stop at Dun-Well Doughnuts and split a maple doughnut to fuel our journey back home.

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We decided to make a pit stop in Time Square because we were feeling tourist-y and Adam snapped this great photo of the three of us:

YOLO

YOLO

 

It was late when we got home and we were exhausted so dinner consisted of baguettes from Maison Kayser and cheese and meats from Zabars. It was the perfect meal to end the perfect first day in NYC.

We drank wine, played Cards Against Humanity, and laughed until we passed out.

 

 

 

 

A Weekend in NYC

I don't like secrets but not because I have a hard time keeping them. I don't like secrets because I hate keeping things from people I love, whether it's good or bad.

This time it was good. So good I couldn't sleep the whole week leading up to the reveal.

My good friend Katy turned the big 3-0 this year so, with months of planning with her husband, Erin and I set out on a mission to surprise her in her new city that she now calls home.

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We flew out of Charlotte on an early morning flight into LGA. Erin and I were deliriously exhausted and excited, twerking our way through security and giggling the whole time we were in line to get our Starbucks.

Our flight was full of Game Cocks heading to NYC to see their team in the playoffs. There were a few beautiful moments of old college friends serendipitously reuniting after years of not seeing each other and finding themselves seated in the same row, as well as strangers connecting with each other in hopes of scoring extra tickets to the game. There were also several of those jokes made, too. 

This was my first time traveling by air in three years. It's crazy to me how I went from traveling (and flying) all the time to a literal ground stop. It felt nice.

It was also my first time at Laguardia since my family and I came over to the US in 1993. It was a bit surreal and my eyes got misty, but that's a another story for another day.

We bought a few snacks for the road, grabbed our bags from baggage claim, and headed towards the buses. We were set on having a full public transportation experience, and with guidance from Adam (Katy's husband), we made our way to their apartment via bus, subway, and foot. (And only a few bruises from trying to get a suitcase through the super narrow turnstiles.)

Our girl was excited to see us, even thought she was ninety-some percent sure we were coming. Regardless, it was a very happy moment for all of us and it felt good to no longer have to keep our visit a secret.

We spent the weekend catching up, crying, playing Cards Against Humanity, celebrating, and literary eating THE WHOLE TIME!

I gained six pounds and regret nothing. 

(I lost all the weight within three days of being back home and getting back on the "toddler" diet.)

This was definitely one of my favorite trips and one I will never forget!

 

Since we had a packed weekend, I'm going to break up the New York posts by day and link them back here. Kapish?

Fifty Hours in NYC, Part 1

What's your favorite travel memory?

 

 

 

 

Buy a Bed, Give a Bed with Drömma

Did you know that over 17,000 kids in Charlotte go to sleep on the floor or in a bed that is not their own? Did you know that children with proper beds sleep almost ten hours more each month than children who sleep on the floor, on sofas, or crowded in bed with family members? Did you know that quality sleep contributes to improved development, academic performance, mental and emotional well being, and a number of other benefits?

Did you know that Drömma donates a bed for every mattress sold through the Give a Dream program?

The Give a Dream program fights child bedlessness, and in turn, helps change the kids' future one bed (and other essential pieces of furniture) at a time.

This program hits near and dear to my heart for two reasons: 1) I can't imagine my child sleeping on the floor, on a couch, or in a bed other than her own and 2) there was a time when I didn't have my own bed and had to share with a family member. 

Even if you do not purchase a Drömma mattress, please consider learning more about the Bed for Kids program and help furnish a future for a child.

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About Drömma

Drömma is a start-up right here in Charlotte! They are part of the mattress industry revolution, selling their mattresses online by cutting out the middle man and passing on the savings to the end user. The mattresses are made in the USA with high-quality and eco-friendly American-made materials. How awesome is that?

The Experience

The bed arrived in a box small enough for standard shipping methods. Which boggled my mind because I'm so used to the old style of mattresses that take up a ton of space.  

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I seriously could not believe that a king mattress could fit in a box that size! Neither could the kid:

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The box was a bit heavy but not impossible to move. Here's a quick video of how I unboxed the mattress:

We're in the process of updating our master bedroom so the arrival of the mattress was perfectly timed! We purchased a new bed and all of the necessary accessories in the afternoon and spent our whole Saturday night putting the bed together. By the time we were done it was almost midnight and we were exhausted! (I'll fill you in on the details of our new furniture, before and afters, and decor in a later post!)

We chose a platform bed, however, the Drömma mattress can be used on top of a box spring or on the floor so buying a new bed is not necessary. 

Setting up the mattress was super easy. All you have to do is unfold the mattress, take off the plastic cover, and watch it magically expand right before your eyes. 

Here's a video of us unrolling the mattress:

 

The verdict:

Our old mattress was way past it's prime and we didn't realize just how bad it was until we slept on the Drömma mattress. It felt great! There are two levels of firmness: medium soft and medium firm. We chose the medium firm and it's perfect for our sleeping needs.

I'm looking forward to years of comfort and great sleep.

The details:

You can learn more about Drömma by checking out their website and following them via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

P.S. Take $75 off your purchase of a Drömma bed with the code BIRCH75. Remember, every mattress purchased is a bed donated to a kid without one.

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I received a Drömma mattress in exchange for a review of the product and to help promote the Give a Dream program. All statements and opinions are my own. 

 

Saturday Brunch at BLT Steak

This past weekend I had the opportunity to try out the new Saturday brunch at BLT Steak, located inside Ritz Carlton in Uptown Charlotte. I'm still full from our meal and it's Wednesday!

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My dear friend Erin joined me on this foodie adventure. And that's exactly what it was, an adventure! We let our tour guide take the reigns and pick out items from the menu that highlight the culinary creativity and talents.

Five courses later, we were begging for a luggage cart to get us back to our cars...

We began our brunch with the beverage trifecta: water, coffee, and a mimosa. The mimosa was one of the best I've had in Charlotte: it wasn't too sweet and it had just a hint of a mix of tropical fruit flavored liquors. 

Our first course was the Eggs Benedict. The saltiness of the ham, the creamed spinach, and the cheddar biscuit made the dish extra special. The egg was perfectly poached and the Hollandaise was delicious.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

The second course consisted of Butternut Squash soup and the signature popovers. My favorite part about the soup (other than the soup part) were the garlic "chips" and the basil oil. 

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

The popovers are served with butter and sea salt. Y'all, so good! I'm also excited to try to recreate them at home, thanks to the recipe card served alongside the bread.

Popovers served with butter and sea salt.

Popovers served with butter and sea salt.

Our third course, the Tuna Tartare, may have been my favorite but that's because I'm on a tuna kick. (Ok, ok, I'm always on a tuna kick.)

The complexity of flavors in the soy-lime dressing was a definite highlight and so were the waffle chips served with the dish.

Waffle Chips

Waffle Chips

Tuna Tartare

Tuna Tartare

Tuna Tartare

Tuna Tartare

Waffle Chip 

Waffle Chip 

My lovely date, Erin Maddrey.

My lovely date, Erin Maddrey.

Up next was the Lobster "Cobb" Salad paired with the Chosen One cocktail. Taking a bite out of the salad brought me back to white beach sands with a warm ocean breeze. Meanwhile, the cocktail made me dream of an ocean front spa experience. 

Be right back, I'm off to plan a tropical beach getaway...

Lobster "Cobb" Salad

Lobster "Cobb" Salad

Chosen One

Chosen One

We ended our meal on a sweet note: Bananas Foster French Toast.

Oh. Em. Gee. So good but so sweet. 

Bananas Foster Brioche French Toast

Bananas Foster Brioche French Toast

Dessert Wine

Dessert Wine

It was my first time dining at BLT Steak and I will definitely return, both for brunch and to try their dinner menu. 

Now, if you excuse me, I have to go shopping for stretchy pants because I have twenty one Uptown restaurants left to try out this year. Eek!

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*P.S. Our meal was complimentary and my review is in no way influenced by that. The experience really was that great and so was the food.

 

 

 

 

The Daily Birch: Carousels and Pi Day

This spring I'm dusting off my suitcase and returning to air travel. It's been a few years but we're finally planning a trip outside of the Carolinas as a family. I'm both nervous and excited and a little overwhelmed because one particular trip includes traveling cross country with a toddler. Help!!

The last couple of nights included research on all of the "tools of the trade" available: travel friendly strollers, car seat backpacks, CARES harnesses, car seat travel carts with wheels, travel friendly diaper bags, etc., etc., etc. Y'all, by the time I was done reading about all of these things my eye balls were burning. And to think I have yet to read about what to pack, making take off and landing comfortable for a kid, entertainment ideas, snacks, etc. 

This trip is getting expensive and we haven't even left yet.

 

We headed to the mall this morning to check out some of the items we researched and ended up not buying anything for the trip. I did, however, find a good option for a second car seat for my husband's truck...but first I have to research it online to make sure it's good enough for our kid.

We tried Pholicious for lunch and it wasn't bad for mall pho. Definitely a healthier food court option, outside of getting a salad from a fast food restaurant. 

Charlotte didn't eat much of her lunch because she was distracted by the carousel in the middle of the food court. I tried to negotiate with her: finish your pho and we'll go for a ride. She didn't even try finishing her lunch and I gave in. 

It cost three dollars to see my child go from pure joy to pure terror then back to joy during the three minute carousel ride. There's a metaphor for life in there somewhere. 

 

We decided on Sabor for dinner since today is both Pi Day (3.14) and Taco Tuesday. Sabor has empanadas (meat hand pie!) and dollar tacos on Tuesday so it was an easy choice. They also have delicious margaritas.

We ordered four tacos, street corn, and two empanadas to feed the three of us. Our friend and her toddler joined us and we helped them eat their plate of nachos because we believe in no nachos being left behind.

 

Dollar Tacos at Sabor in NoDa

Dollar Tacos at Sabor in NoDa

Street Corn

Street Corn

Empanadas on Pi Day

Empanadas on Pi Day

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Hipster Toddler.

Hipster Toddler.

I also got a ton of work done after our outings so today goes in the "winning" category.

 

How was your day? And more importantly, how did you celebrate Pi Day?

 

 

 

Foodie Light

food-blogger-tool-portable-light-for-dark-restaurants

Spoiler alert: you don't have to have the fanciest camera or the fanciest tools to be a "serious" food blogger, especially when starting out. Whether you're a micro blogger (Instagram only) or have a blog, a few simple tools are all you need for professional results.

Recently, I "invested" in a portable light that has been a game changer. "Invested" because it was less than $10. The light has three brightness settings, fits in a small bag, and it clips on to your phone for the perfect #selfie situation. And the best part? I no longer have to ask my husband to break out his phone to light a dish.

Intrigued? Get it here.

 

Charlotte Ballet's Sleeping Beauty at the Knight Theater

The production run of Charlotte Ballet's Sleeping Beauty begins March 10th and runs through March 19th. The Knight Theater's location Uptown is perfect for an enchanted outing and I was asked to contribute to the Charlotte Ballet blog, along with three other local food bloggers. I took the kid friendly route that would be perfect for one of the matinee showings!

Leaving the kids at home? Check out the three other suggestions by clicking here.

 

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Do you have your tickets to Sleeping Beauty yet? What is your favorite Charlotte Ballet production?