Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two Sisters Taking a Bite Out of Birmingham

One of the best things about being in Birmingham is that I'm closer to my sister and we get to do fun sisterly things together. We loved traveling together way back in 2012 for the London Olympics games, which was my very first blog ever, 2 Sisters Across the Pond in which I have vivid memories of blogging at 2 am so our friends and family could hear about our day's journeys while overseas.

So fast forward 4 years later and here we are living in the same city and getting to do fun things like hike, movies, sleepovers, etc. and then it occurred to us--we love a good brunch, and we love our treats, and we were beginning to keep a constant text message conversation of restaurants we needed to go try together, and so was the start of what is now a monthly Foodie Tour around the Magic City! We followed enough Instagramers around the city and read enough blogs to have a good list of places to try.

So back on a cold Saturday in February, having trained/saved calories all week, we started our full day of eating around Birmingham!

We met at 8 am at Church Street Coffee for the infamous Break Up Cookie! My coworkers had been raving about this dreamy cookie topped with sea salt! It was so yummy! And so was the coffee & tea too!

Next, not at all hungry, we stopped in Continental Bakery for pastries for later, including a King Cake Bread Pudding in honor of Mardi Gras, that was so sinfully good...the next day when I got hungry for it.

So in between eating, it's important to hydrate and exercise, so we took it out on the Vulcan Trail and then over to Railroad Park, and then Avondale Park. By this time, we had put so many steps in, we were working up an appetite again.

Our next stop was Wasabi Juan's in Avondale for the sushi burritos. The place is bright and cheery inside, there is even scripture on the wall and a prayer box--how cool is that?! The sushi burrito was pretty much amazing, too!

We were not even hungry but forced ourselves to go to Olexa's in Mountain Brook. The warm vanilla cake with the butter cream frosting was our mission. We split a piece to go and couldn't even finish it! I'm still dreaming about this cake.

Needless to say, after a full day of that, we didn't each much else for the rest of the day, but one thing was certain, we still had a list full of other places to try....hence the March Madness Edition of the Foodie Tour:

Our first stop on this rainy March Saturday was Holler and Dash, opened by Cracker Barrel, and the first restaurant in the U.S. right in downtown Homewood, specializing in gourmet biscuits.

This was a crowded spot, as we were there the first Saturday of opening week. Going in, you order in line, grab a number, look for an empty table, in which there was none. Three strikes for this place, which is rare on our food tours:
1) Long wait time, standing awkwardly waiting for someone to get up and then it's a mad 'dash' to get to the table before the next person
2) Out of grits! I had my heart set on not a biscuit, but a grit bowl, in which they were out of and
3) Coffee, while so yummy, isn't free on refills! Didn't want to get back in the long line and pay $2.50 for a refill. Which is also kind of pricey place--my HamaBama biscuit and coffee was $12.50. Yikes! Cracker Barrel gives you a lot for $12.50 and endless coffee refills. It's a hipster place for sure--kale is on every biscuit!

We enjoyed shopping in downtown Homewood--so many cute boutiques and furniture shops.
We met some friends who joined the lunch portion of the tour--my coworker Meaghan and friend Tamara! We met at Dos Hermanos taco truck, located at 211 Green Valley Road at the Texaco station parking lot. It's authentic and has been making all the news on Birmingham's best food trucks. We had to try!
I was feeling adventurous and decided to try the cow tongue taco and then a chicken one. Both were sooooo very good! Try the tongue...the cow intestine and cow brain tacos are at your own risk...
My coworker Meaghan had heard great things about Lichitas Paleteria Y Neveria, a Mexican ice cream and popsicles place nearby the Dos Hermanos taco truck. They will also be in the new Pizitz Food Hall, opening in downtown later this summer, so we knew it had to be good.

I got the dulce de leche and pistachio. Soooo amazing. We pretty much inhaled our ice cream, explaining why there is no picture...but trust us, it was muy deliciouso!

After a brief break, we were back at it--this time at Avondale, a bustling area right now for new restaurants. Hotbox is located at the Parkside Bar, and is a hidden gem! Enter the bar and then at the back exit on the patio, you see the fenced area with the air stream trailer that is Hotbox, a trendy food concept with a new menu out every week or so. We opted for potsickers and a shrimp salad. Both were so good! We loved the atmosphere and the cool vibes.

Not exactly hungry, but trying to stick with our food tour plan, we headed over to BYOB Rocks, but were a little turned off by the dark/blacklight/tattoo parlor look to the restaurant. Deciding we were already too full for anything else, we decided to call it a night.

And April's Foodie Tour is already in the works! Be sure to comment with any suggestions for places in and around Birmingham that are your favs...AND FEEL FREE To JOIN IN!

Living Out the Plans

It's on fun adventures like this that helps me feel so at home in Birmingham. I still pinch myself sometimes to think about the quick move back in September and job change. But it's part of God's plan and He is teaching and growing me each day. I'm grateful for his blessings in who He places, my new church family at Church Unlimited, my career, and the adventures in my life at this time and rejoice in what I'm experiencing in the Magic City.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Back to Blogging--Boaz to Birmingham

So somehow 5 whole months have passed and I'm just now finding the time to write a few lines, and needless to say, a lot has happened! The biggest issue was the fact I needed a new laptop and when life changes happen, let's face it, some things just have to wait. Happy to have a new laptop to blog and write now. To catch up on things, I'll do a quick recap:
In September, I left my job of 5 1/2 years at the MCCVB and moved to Birmingham.
I took my already planned trip to New England at the end of September (blog to follow soon).
And on October 1st, I began working at Brownell Travel as the Senior Administrative Coordinator for Troy Haas, President & CEO at Brownell.
Big Al is the keeper of my business cards--ROLL TIDE!
The new place is coming together, complete with lots of crimson and gray!
One of my fav pics from our company meeting back in November in ATL. Sweet girls!!
I'm really enjoying this new chapter in my life! Birmingham is a great city--full of great restaurants, hiking trails, and unique places to explore. One of my favorite finds--within walking distance to my apartment and job---Trader Joe's!
I'm loving my job and learning so much. It's different going from an office of three to an office of 50, and I'm happy to still be in the travel industry. What better place to be than at the oldest travel agency in the country?! Brownell Travel began in 1887 in Birmingham and is one of the most highly known and respected travel agencies in the country for luxury and incentive travel.
I've also gotten plugged in at a local church, Church Unlimited, which is a fairly new church, but the Lord is blessing it and I've met so many great people there!
The longest hike ever in January--but still fun with Lauren and my new friend Heather!
New friends & connecting with old friends, as well as being closer with my sister since we both live here now has been some of the most rewarding things about the move. It's also made the transition easier. The first few months were hard, as I did get homesick, but thanks to friends, family, coworkers, all is well.
My sister Lauren and my new friend at church, Melinda, and I at the UA vs. AU meet in Bham back in January! Roll Tide!

Me & Mr. Austin Luke at a party a few weeks ago. He cleans up so nice!
Living Out the Plans:
The Lord has had his hand on this move. Has it been hard to do? Yes. Have I questioned why sometimes? Absolutely. I had begun to get restless over the past few years, having moved back from college, and settled into my first big girl job for some time. I loved being involved and really enjoyed my job. I was surrounded by all my family, friends, church, and all the comforts of home. It made it hard to leave, but at the same time, I knew it was something I had to do. God calls us to get out of our comfort zones, but all with our best interest in mind. It might be hard to know at the time, going into something new rather blindly, however, that's when our faith shows it's strength. When you feel God calling you to somewhere and then it all is lining up, you can rest assured, He's going to take care of you. This move has really made me realize why God gave me the name for my blog, Living Out the Plans. He knows my imperfections and loves me just the same, and in His Word, He gives us such promise of hope and a bright future in every step of life.
Being surrounded by a gracious, professional, and highly respected and motivated group of coworkers and boss, as well as having a spirit filled church, great friends, family, etc. it's evident this was all for a reason. Sure, there are days when I miss my parents, dogs, family and friends, my former coworkers and organizations I was a part of like crazy. But I know God has me here to teach and grow me spiritually, professionally, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Coach Saban says be where your feet are planted, which has had great meaning for me the last few months. God's Word says in Psalms 17:6 "My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped." Trusting in God's plan for us is a submissive act of obedience and surrender. It's not always easy, but something the Lord always rewards us for, which we can see sometimes sooner rather than later. I'm happy and enjoying where I am, the people I'm surrounded by, and living out on my own. Reflecting on good memories

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Birthday + Farewell Party

 I turned 29 in August and am still trying to figure out where my 20's went. AH!
My coworkers gave me a surprise at the office & treated me to lunch at the Rock House. MMM!
 I spent my actual at the beach with my family and we had a blast. The weather was gorgeous in Destin.
The weather was absolutely perfect!

Birthday dinner at Pompano Joe's!
Shopping at Destin Commons with my fun Mom!

The whole family was all together at Goatfeathers at Santa Rosa beach off 30-A.

So after I returned from the beach, I interviewed and was offered a job!  This was clearly the Lord's hand. 
After 5 1/2 wonderful years at the Marshall Co. CVB, an opportunity came along at Brownell Travel at the Summit in Birmingham that caught my fancy. After several interviews, I was offered the job! I truly feel in my heart this is the right time and have such a peace about it. I cannot say enough about the 128 year old legacy for excellence and personalization this company has for the details and outstanding customer service in the travel industry.  

I will start October 1st working as the Senior Administrative Coordinator for the President & CEO, Troy Haas, a godly man & leader who has been with Brownell for 20+ years. Everyone I have met there has been so friendly and professional.

 It has been hard to leave & say goodbye, as the CVB has been the best job for me right out of college. The people I've gotten to work with on events have been amazing.

I was so honored to have had my coworkers, board, and partners in the industry, and lifelong friends come to celebrate with me at my farewell party this week! It was sad, happy, and bittersweet, but I am blessed to have these people in my life and hope to stay in touch with everyone!
Such a fun day with these people! I'm going to miss them all! Potluck BBQ, cupcakes, and all the sides & fixings!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Back at College, Backstage Passes, and Searching 16 Acres for a Missing Pet

So Summer is...almost over! Boo! All the pictures of kids and teachers back in school has me not so much missing the dread of mid July when school supplies stocked the shelves at Wal-Mart and the registration process/new lockers, schedule, etc. It always sent me in a cold sweat, more of the unknown than anything, right? Transitioning into new schools, new teachers, harder subjects with each year, etc. But now as an adult, you look back and see how simple life really was back then.
Because you had to be stylin with the 101 Dalmations swag...

Speaking of being back in school, I went for my Year 2 of Southeastern Tourism Society's Marketing College last week in Dahlonega, GA. I was fortunate to receive another scholarship from Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. It is a three year program for those in the hospitality industry to acquire the highly respected TMP (Tourism Marketing Professional) certification. It is an intense 5 days of a wide range of relevant topics and instructors who volunteer their time. I stay in the dorms on campus of North Georgia University, which is a military college, eat in the cafeteria, and enjoy the feeling of being back in college--for a week, minus the exams! It's a lot of fun to get to know the 75 people or so in the class from all over the south and bring a lot of good ideas to implement back home!
Here are some of my sweet friends from Marketing College! They are all from South Alabama./Gulf Shores, etc.

 Peggie from the Boaz Chamber and I roomed together! :)

And on Day 5 you get your Certificate of Completion with STS President, Bill Hardeman! One more year to go!

Saturday was the 2nd Day of Main Street Music Festival in Albertville. That meant an early morning 5K with another mother/daughter duo, Ola & Whitney:

Mom and I volunteered at the Information Booth at the festival and sold t-shirts, visors, and raffle tickets. That night was the main event--Exile & .38 Special in concert! The best thing about this festival is that it's FREE! Over 47,000 people came throughout the weekend, which is awesome! My Aunt Kristi lives in Atlanta and actually goes to church with Danny Chauncey, the main guitar player in .38 Special. She was coming home for a visit anyway, so it was nice to go backstage and get to meet Danny and his wife Kelly.
 Lastly, got a scary call on Wednesday at work from my mom saying that my pug of 12 years, Cuddles, was lost. Cuddles, being almost 13 years old has major health issues including being blind and deaf, collapsed trachea, enlarged heart, etc. But she's still kicking, which makes her former days of being adventurous hard to accept that she's no longer in the shape for such things. In the matter of 1-2 minutes this little girl escaped from my mom's sight and went deep into the trails and brush that encompasses our 16 acres of land. I came home at lunch and helped look a good hour all over our property before FINALLY hearing a small whimper and saw her trying to get through a gate behind our house! Praise the Lord! That was a scary 3 hours but so glad to have her back home, no worse for wear! Have any of you ever lost a pet, even for just a few hours? It makes you feel so helpless not knowing where your beloved pet is! They really are one of the family and she will be watched at all times now!
For the record, Simba was NO help in the search!
Living Out the Plans
Temporarily losing Cuddles yesterday made me stop & think about how easy it is for us as Christians to get distracted in today's world and lose sight of our main goal--to live for Christ & further His Kingdom. Sometimes we walk around with our own agendas and let our selfish desires rule our path. It is only after we lose focus and sight of where we know we should be & end up in danger that we realize how and when we stumbled. I'm glad that Jesus is forgiving and always welcomes us back with open arms. But how painful for our Father that has to be to watch His children be "temporarily lost" in the world. That is why we have to remain in His Word, prayer, and be accountable with our church family so that when we do get off track, we are never so far gone that we can't find our way. I love the lyrics in "Who You Are" by Outspoken:
You can never fall too hard, so fast, so far that you can't get back when you're lost."
"All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all." Isaiah 53:6

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Legendary 10 Year Class Reunion

So I miss high school from time to time. Don't we all? Did we realize how good we had it back then without many responsibilities and getting out at 3:00 each day? Um, no.
While it seems really hard to believe that it's been 10 years already (as my 20's seem to all run together), I was actually really excited to both help plan and attend my reunion.

I was not an officer in school but being yearbook editor and a planner for a living, I guess I just got roped in to the planning for it, which I can honestly say was really fun and rewarding.
Give me ample amount of time to think and research about decorating and planning for it, I'll go slightly overboard. But in a nutshell, here's what it consisted of:
1) Setting the location, date and time
2) Getting the group made and inviting people on Facebook
3) Developing a killer playlist (my favorite part). I can't tell you how much I love 90's music
4) Adding little details like photo booth area, banner, memorabilia, centerpieces, etc.
5) Developing a hashtag #Boaz05Reunion
6) Reminding people to RSVP
7) Getting there early to decorate
8) Take a group photo
9) Make it a mission to talk to every single person there
10) Have fun and enjoy it!

We had it at the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge, which I was ever so shocked to hear people say that they either had never been before or hadn't been in years. Wuuutttt?! It's in your backyard people and it's gorgeous!
A big thank you to Jessica, Anna, and Caitlin for helping!

So anyway, it was way easy and just perfect! We had plenty of room, it was a sunny day, and we got to see and catch up with people that we hadn't seen in 5-10 years. Some people traveled a great distance to be here and some just a few minutes.
After dinner, we went across the hallway to the Hickory Bar. John Pate was the Selfie Stick Master, which provided us with photos of funny pictures of everyone that attended. We looked at the yearbook, and just had a good time. After that, a few of us went to John's for more fun at the pool. Everyone kept saying that we all needed to hang out more. Isn't that the goal? Just because high school is done doesn't mean you can't see these people again? You make time and just enjoy being together as former classmates.
Cheers to the next reunion--happening in 1, 3, and/or 5 years. Proud to be a Pirate.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Coon Dog Cemetery, Rattlesnake Saloon, Ave Maria Grotto & more touristy fun!

Each year, my mom, who is also my best friend and the best mom a girl could ask for, forms an itinerary we like to call "Daughter's Day Weekend." It varies in location, but it always includes a fun time, good food, and memories made.
This year's weekend was no different as we traveled to Florence, AL. My sister Lauren had never been before, so we had a lot to cover in a short amount of time over the Memorial Day Weekend.

We began our adventure by meeting at our glorious hotel for the weekend, the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa. It does not disappoint.

We ate lunch at one of the best Italian restaurants you'll ever find, Ricatoni's. Usually I get the brick oven pizza, but I tried the grilled chicken sandwich and it was great!
We shopped downtown and went in the famous Billy Reid, but didn't see anything we could afford! ha!

Next stop, Una & Leo, on the campus of The University of North Alabama, which is within walking distance from downtown.
 Here is Una getting some loving by her caretaker.

 And Leo snoozing in the shade.

They were having an extra lazy day but they are so fun to watch! We asked what they eat and it's a special diet of ground up beef from Colorado!

We needed to cool off and what better place than this pool at the hotel?!

After a refreshing dip in the pool, we threw a frisbee outside on the back lawn and walked around.

By this time, we were getting hungry and we had reservations (required) at the 360 Grille, atop the Renaissance Tower at the hotel.
What a treat this place is. From the moment we stepped out of the elevator, we heard the soft live music playing, and beheld the views at the top of the 22 story revolving restaurant.


I chose to get the Farmer's Market Special--which all ingredients from the spring vegetable salad to the mushroom gnocchi, to the finale, the mint strawberry shortbread were all purchased that morning at the local farmers market!
On Sunday, we began the morning with brunch at the hotel and then packed up and headed on another road trip. The destination was the Coon Dog Cemetery in Tuscumbia. It took about 45 minutes to get there from Florence on winding roads out in the middle of nowhere, but we finally made it.

Founded in 1937 when the beloved coon dog, Troop, passed away, his owner buried him at the spot, and it soon came to be a burial remembrance ground for other owners of the breed to do the same. Today, over 185 coon dogs are buried there and it is the only cemetery of it's kind in the world, thus making it a tourist attraction.

There is a sign in book and on the grave sites/markers you will see pennies laid from others who have come to pay their respects. Is there really anything like the special bond between a dog and it's owner?

If you're ever in the area, you should make the trip up to see this one of a kind memorial. But prepared, it's rustic (no restrooms, vending machines, cell service).

Next on the adventure was the Rattlesnake Saloon, also located in Tuscumbia and only amount 10 miles from the Coon Dog Cemetery.
We pulled in to the dirt gravel lot and waited at the shuttle stop to then climb up on the bed of a pick up truck that would carry us down to the Saloon, which is a large cave opening with restaurant inside and outdoor seating on plastic tables and chairs. Opened to the public in 2009, it is another tourism gem, and although we didn't eat because of the large wait time, the food looked and smelled amazing!
We ate a quick lunch back in downtown Tuscumbia before we had to say our Daughter's Day Weekend farewell!
On the return trip, Mom and I decided to complete our tourist day by stopping off in Cullman at the Ave Maria Grotto. I had never been before and yet it's only an hour from home! Dedicated in 1934 by Benedictine Monk Brother Joseph Zoettl, the Grotto, which means cave in Latin, features over 125 miniatures, reproductions of famous shrines, churches, and buildings throughout history.

 We even spotted a rat snake--not a reproduction (OR A RATTLESNAKE) thankgoodness!

 It took about 30 minutes to walk through outdoors, but is something everyone can appreciate all the time and detailed work that Brother Joseph constructed out of materials sent to him from all over. This included colored glass, marbles, cold cream jars, punctured commode floats, wrecked marble, broken bathroom tile, costume jewelry, gifts from every state in the union and from many foreign countries.
While we were walking through, a large tour bus with about 50 people unloaded and began touring alongside us. They were a group of Roman Catholics from Chicago and chanted many Catholic prayers aloud along the way. Mom and I were surprised at first but found it really contributed to the feeling of being in another country and seeing all the biblical replicas. 

Living Out the Plans:
This special Daughter's Day Weekend makes me reflect and be thankful for my family. I am blessed with wonderful parents (who celebrate their 40th Anniversary this month), a sister who is also such a great friend, and to live in such a great state. Let us not take our culture, our upbringing, southern hospitality, values, and traditions for granted. I know that people in other parts of the country and world would love to have and experience the everyday things like talking to our family on the phone, celebrating special holidays and occasions and taking trips together. It also brought home just how much our State has to offer. Such a wide variety of unique experiences to see and do all in the matter of a few hours driving. A good mix of city, country, contemporary, history, music, culture, and cuisine.
One thing I am ashamed to say I didn't know, but the Alabama Motto is "Here We Rest." How simple, yet fitting. Alabama has a lot to offer in the way of "rest," from the beaches, the mountain tops, trails, lakes, and everything in between. It reminds me of this scripture: "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." Psalm 62:1-2

Happy Summer everyone! I would love to hear from you if you've been to Florence, Coon Dog Cemetery, Rattlesnake Saloon, Ave Maria Grotto, etc.