Practice with Gratitude

There are many “-ism’s” my yoga instructor Dominique shares with us during our classes. They could be things she has experienced during her own practice, things she has read about, or things her own instructors have said. The point is these “mantras” are what she bases her classes and flow around, so during meditation we can come back to it and bring notice to it.

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Professional photos I did for my instructor Dominique!

Before I get into the purpose of this post specifically, here are some of my favorite Dominiqueisms that I try carry with me on a daily basis or during our classes:

• “The hardest adjustment in any pose is the adjustment of your mind.”
• ”Remember to breathe through the chaos.”
• ”In stillness you are able to hear. In silence you are able to feel.”

So it’s no surprise that when I went to class on Tuesday she said something to us after a particularly difficult and challenging Sun B flow. We were in child’s pose and Dominique was telling us to return to our breath (mine had gotten pretty choppy) and practice with gratitude.

At the time, my friend Andrea and I kind of did a side glance at each other from our mats in a silent “Are you kidding me? We’re freaking tired as hell here!”, but then Dominique continued.

She told us that when we are tired or in a state of frustration because we couldn’t nail down a pose, or maybe had a bad at work, had an argument with someone or even got frustrated for another reason, we have to remember to practice things in life with gratitude. Being thankful for something doesn’t have to only be acknowledged or recognized at Thanksgiving. And that last phrase got me thinking!

It seems easier said than done, right?

Try to ask yourself how many times a day do you stop to really give thanks for the things you have? I know there are people out there who do this a lot, which is great! For me personally, I could be better about it. Sure, I’m not ungrateful for the things in my life, but do I really stop to recognize the things I am grateful for? No. So I think we could all take a little time and just remember to be thankful. It doesn’t have to be for any particular thing, but remember to just give thanks. It’s a simple thing, really.

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On that note, here are my takeaways from class on how to better practice with gratitude:

• I showed up to my mat. Sometimes that’s simple enough to practice with gratitude!

• Setting an intention at the beginning of class is a very easy and direct way to practice with gratitude. Whether you set an intention for yourself or for someone else who couldn’t make it to their mat, it’s an offering. And a positive one at that!

• Return to your breath and notice. Where did the ujjayi (deep “ocean” breathing) go? It also seems like a pretty simple concept, but it’s another practice of gratitude and another Dominiqueism. Remember to stop, take a deep breath, and come back to your breath. Come back to the intention you’ve set and be thankful for it.

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• Trying to stay positive and staying focused while practicing can be so hard when a pose proves to be challenging, hurts, etc. When we return from rest and hug our knees to our chest, it’s a way to silently thank yourself during your practice. Seems silly but hug yourself!

So for any of you who do practice yoga, or just want a little mantra for your day or week, remember this one.

Practice with gratitude.

Happy Friday and have a good weekend, friends!

What are some sayings or mantras you carry for yourself during the day or week?

Day in the Life

These are fun posts to do from time to time and I recently had a friend tell me that sometimes it seems like I do so much and how I balance it all. So I thought it might be fun to share with you what a day in the life of Aparna looks like.

Each day is actually very different for me depending on a variety of things, but I still thought it might be fun to share a look into a “typical” week day. So here’s what Tuesday Feb 2 looked like for me…

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My usual time to get is 5:51 a.m. (and I allow myself one snooze if necessary), and we get up, get ready for work, give the dog his food, meds and let him out. Then REB and I drive into work together (since we both work downtown) and we’re at work by 7:30.

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Lots of alarms, I know!

However, Tuesday and Thursday is a different tune. I get up earlier so I can go to my 6 a.m. bootcamp class before work. I need enough time to 1). possibly hit snooze once 2). get up and change 3). Eat a pre-workout snack and 4). Get there on time.

6:00 – 7:00

Sweat it out for an hour in a circuit focused on glutes and hammies. Hurts so good.

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Photo by Sharon.

Usually I get to work by 7:30, but on these bootcamp mornings, I rush home just in time to see REB leaving for work. After a quick shower** and giving the dog whatever meds he still needs (REB usually leaves me a text letting me know), I drive myself into work and get in around 8.
**Tuesday and Thursdays are the days where my hair looks absolutely haggard and gross. My coworkers are incredibly genuine and nice to not point that out those days.

8:00

The first necessity upon getting to work is having second breakfast and my only cup of coffee of the day before diving into the day.

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Love our standing desks! They’re especially nice on days like this particular Tuesday where we worked on hamstrings and glutes so sitting down hurts like a mother.

Depending on the week, my team and I may have our usual scrum ceremonies of sprint planning, retrospectives, workshopping more stories, or just other general meetings. However we didn’t have any meetings scheduled so we were able to carry on board work as usual after our standup. I also fit in a mid-morning snack around 10:30 consisting of two hard boiled eggs and some black pepper.

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Lunch, which I prepared the night before at home. Today I had some Jamaican Jerk tofu leftovers, broccoli and string cheese – proteinalicious!

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4:30

After leaving work and taking nearly 25 minutes to get home (I only live three miles from work. Why is there disgusting traffic in this tiny city?), I realized REB and I got home at the same time. After-work “ceremonies” include feeding the dog, giving him his meds, letting him out, getting our mail and catching up with REB! Then it was time to change for yoga!

7:00 – 8:00

I’ve been practicing with Dominique as my instructor for about 3 years and just love her.

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I call my Tuesdays and Thursdays my “two-a-days” because I do two workouts those days. I do bootcamps in the morning both days, and then on Tuesday night I head to heated yoga class, while on Thursdays there’s a weight/strengthening class at my gym.

8:15-bedtime

Because I was gone over the weekend and didn’t get a chance to do my usual Sunday grocery shopping, I had to go to the store after yoga. I loathe going to the grocery store on week nights. I didn’t get a full list of things, but enough of our “staples” to hold us over for our lunches and some dinners!

When I got home, REB was in the basement working out so I had a quick dinner (brinner, actually) and ate it while catching up on my DVR shows. Before bed, I was able to get a few more pages in! I’m currently reading Wildflower by Drew Barrymore. It’s pretty good so far.

So there it is. A Tuesday in the life of moi. Ok, so maybe not the most exciting thing ever, but hey! Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. …or whatever.

What are you currently reading?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spartan Weekend

This past weekend I was able to cross off something on my list that I’d never done before: attend a Spartan basketball game.

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Do you guys know that in the four years I attended Michigan State I didn’t attend a single basketball game? For shame. I went to so many football games but a big regret of mine is not doing Midnight Madness and getting Izzone tickets (the student section). Just terrible. But hey! Better late than never. The best part of the weekend was being able to do this with one of my best friends, Jackie! I actually bought her tickets to this game as a birthday gift and assumed she and her husband would go. So when she asked me if instead, I’d go with her, and we’d make a girls weekend of it, I couldn’t say no!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind and start from Saturday.

Saturday

Jackie arrived via Amtrak around noon, and after picking her up we headed to brunch! Since we both have an obsession with Paris and brunch, I decided going to Felix Bistro and Bar would be perfect! And was it ever! We each got a champagne cocktail and shared some warm olives. For our main meals, I opted for the Eggs Benedict (but really it was florentine since I got spinach to make it vegetarian) and Jackie got a Croque Madame.

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Both our meals and drinks were delicious and it was great just catching up with her since I hadn’t seen her since her birthday in December – also for shame. After we were done eating, we walked around Ann Arbor’s downtown since it was unusually warm (almost 50!) and I took her to a bookstore in town called Literati. It’s such a cute bookstore with local book signings, a cafe upstairs and they even have literary quotes painted on the side of the building. The downstairs is cute because they have an old typewriter set up and encourage patrons to add onto a story they’ve started.

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From there we walked around a little bit more, got a quick cup of coffee then headed to the store to get some fixings for for later (i.e. more champagne and items to make a charcuterie board for dinner). We ended up spending the afternoon and evening watching movies, drinking some bubbly and just having fun. If any of you follow me on Snapchat, you may have seen some of the hilarity I had posted on there.

SUNDAY

Sunday morning we got up kind of early, had a quick breakfast at home, but then packed up and headed up to Michigan State’s campus for the game! We arrived in East Lansing early (like noon-ish) and since tip off wasn’t until 5:15, we had the afternoon to kill. Our first stop before checking in was having lunch at Woody’s Oasis, which is a nostalgic place for any Michigan State alum. They definitely top my list as some of the most legit Mediterranean food ever. I got a falafel plate that came with four pieces of falafel, spicy hummus, fattoush and pita. I think I ate maybe a quarter of that plate, if that. I had forgotten how huge their portions are! Luckily we just packed up our leftovers!

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Once we were done eating, we took our chances and were able to check into our hotel early. The Marriott in EL is situated across from campus so it’s perfect because you can park underground and then walk across the street and into campus!  Since we had a few hours to spare before the game, we walked to the newly build Eli and Edyth Broad Museum on campus.

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It is an absolutely stunning building architecturally and it’s pretty quick to walk through since it’s quite small. There were some interesting exhibits in there, though.

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After we left there, we went back to the hotel for a few minutes and then made our walk to the Breslin for the Spartan game!

Let me tell you: It doesn’t matter how many times I visit that campus, my heart just goes pitter-patter walking through it. It is seriously one of my most favorite places on earth. The memories I made there during time there will never leave me. I love walking through it and seeing what has changed, seeing what is still the same and remember all the shortcuts to get from A to B.

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Sparty aka Bae watching over campus <3

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Beautiful Beaumont <3

Overall, the game was a lot of fun! Jackie and I were doing all the student cheers along with the students, even though we were sitting a lot further up from the student section. Hey! Some things you never forget how to do – and Spartan cheers during games is one of them ;) Spartans played and defeated Rutgers so it was a good time for sure! GO GREEN!

After walking through the mist back to our hotel, we changed out of our slightly damp clothing (the weather was not too friendly to us that day) and then made our way to our favorite bar and our ol’ stomping ground: The Peanut Barrel. This bar is everything to us. A lot of students have their bars they love and while I went to a few of them, the one that is my absolute favorite is this one. They’re known for their long islands, which are so strong you’re only allowed to order 2. Then you have to switch to something else. I remember them being a lot stronger and a lot larger than what is served now, but I still had to get one for ol times sake.

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We met up with our other friend Valerie who not only lives in the area, but she works for the university and was also at the game. So it was fun to just hang out and catch up. Unfortunately, being a Sunday, Valerie had to leave so she could get to bed before work. However, Jackie and I were staying the night, so we ended up staying at the Barrel for a while. And by “a while”, I mean, we closed the bar down. That was a first! Luckily there weren’t a lot of people in there and the ones who were, we all became fast friend with, and the night ended up being a contest to see who would pick the best songs off the jukebox. A truly fun, and memorable night!

After making it back to our hotel, we crashed pretty hard but were somehow still wired and didn’t fall asleep until 4ish. Terrible. So that meant the drive home on Monday a little… groggy. I wouldn’t have changed anything though, because it was a lot of fun and another fun event I can add to the memory bank!

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And really, any time I can hang out with this chickie, is time well spent.

What are some of your favorite college memories?

Something Neat Happened

The title of this post says it all: Something kinda neat happened.

As most of you know, in addition to my every day 9-to-5 job (more like 7:30-4:30), I run a small side business with Aparna Photography. While my main focus is on portrait sessions of families, children and weddings, I do dabble a bit in commercial taking photos for local businesses and most recently (and the “kinda neat thing”) authors who are publishing books!

One of REB’s in-laws, Lolita Cummings Carson, recently wrote a book titled  A Cow Needs A Tail For More Than One Summer which is a compilation of essays/short stories she has written as a tribute to her mother. …And guess who she asked to take the photos of her? You got it – yours truly!

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Growing up, her mother had a lot of sayings (the title of the book being one) and she ended up writing little stories about growing up hearing those sayings and the mother-daughter relationship they shared and still share as a result of it.

You guys, this book is hilarious! I’m not just saying that either. It’s not very long, less than 100 pages, and it’s about 8-10 stories and they had me literally laughing out loud. Granted I do know Lolita, but hearing about her childhood and the hi-jinx she got into gave me an insight into her upbringing I never knew. And it made adore her even more. I know for a fact that many mothers and daughters share this type of relationship and probably still do even into adulthood!

The very humbling and rewarding part was seeing the photos I took in this book, though! They were some of the most fun photos I ever took, and even more so knowing they had a personal meaning to both the author and family.

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So, here’s to Lolita and congrats on the book. I hope she writes a sequel and I hope I can help contribute to the fun again! And if you need a fun, easy and quick read, definitely pick this one up!

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Happy Friday, friends!

Hotty Toddy Getaway

Many of you may have seen my photos on social media and picked up on the fact that I was in the south for a few days last week! I returned back to my old stomping grounds in Oxford, MS to visit one of my best friends and her husband for a much-needed-extended-long-weekend getaway.

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Allison and Max!

In case some of you do not know, my dad was a professor of engineering (ME) at Ole Miss and we had the privilege of living in the bubble that is Oxford. I say bubble because Oxford is nothing like the rest of the state of MS. It’s actually pretty liberal, has a diverse demographic on campus, a big Indian community (surprisingly) and it’s turning into this little hipster-chic city. I couldn’t believe how much it has changed over the years. I’ve been back to visit a few times since moving back up to the north, but it always blows me away when I see what changes its gone through, and this past trip was no different.

I’ve talked about my friend Allison on the blog before (both here and here) and it was so much fun to spend 5 days with both her and Max! So let’s get to the good stuff.

DISCLAIMER: It’s going to seem like all we did was eat for 5 days…but I assure you, we did a lot more other things. I just happen to chronicle the food the most…

The day I landed, they picked me up from MEM and we headed to the Indian grocery store to stock up on some spices and produce. We had already agreed earlier in the week that she and I would cook an Indian feast one day during the weekend, so we stocked up. We also did this to kill time before the pizza place we were going to eat dinner at, was open. Dinner that night was at Tribeca Alley Cafe in Sardis, MS just a little past the border into MS.

They’re known for their wood-fire pizza so that’s exactly what I ordered. I also indulged and ordered some sweet tea, because that only exists south of the Mason-Dixon.

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This pizza was out of this world. I got the Margherita but everything on their menu sounded really good. After we were stuffed from pizza, we drove the rest of the way into Oxford (The Oxpatch!) and ended the evening with some hot chocolate and a tribute to Bowie by watching Life Aquatic.

The next morning after getting ready, feeding the many animals that live on the property they share with Max’s family, Max and Allison prepared barista-quality coffee for me (complete with latte art!) from their coffee machine. After that, we chilled for a bit and then headed downtown to the legendary Oxford Square. It’s a very cute and charming area of Oxford filled with boutiques, restaurants, and the beautiful courthouse. I immediately felt like I was back home upon stepping onto the square. We had lunch downtown at South Depot Taco Shop where I ordered a burrito bowl with marinated tofu and black beans and we split some dips and chips for the table. TONS. OF. FOOD.

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After inhaling our food, we decided a walk around the Square was in order to help burn off some of those calories. One thing that’s great about the Square? It has hills! Odd, but true. Our stops included: Southside Gallery where I saw some of Allan’s work (Allan is Allison’s twin brother and an amazing artist/painter. He’s actually quite big in the south and I’m proud to own some of his original pieces!)

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We also made a pit stop at the clothing store so I could buy some Rebel gear for my sister and nephew, and also walked by the random London phone booth that resides in the Square.

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After walking around the Square, we headed back to the compound and started watching Man in the High Castle – which I am addicted to now! We watched a few episodes and then headed back out to have dinner at Ravine. You guys, I was looking forward to this meal for weeks. That is no lie. Ravine is located in the outskirts of Oxford and is contemporary southern food that is totally embracing the farm-to-table mentality. Basically: A hipster-nonsense-hotspot!

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I can’t say enough nice things about Ravine. The service was exceptional, the staff so polite and the food was some of the best I’ve had. We all got drinks (I got an old fashioned. Because obviously), shared an appetizer of homemade falafel (delicious and light!), and I ordered their butternut goat cheese ravioli with veggies. It was insanely good! They actually had another vegetarian offering (which is at market price for them) but this dish sounded better to me. Dessert was a no brainer: southern pecan pie.

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I was reunited with southern pecan pie and it was the most glorious pie ever. Because me and pie. And the south. And pecans grown in the south. And pie.

All in all – that dining experience will be a memorable one for me for a long time! I think for Allison and Max too! After we rolled ourselves to the cars and then back to their place, we watched more High Castle and I literally passed out from either a food coma, the drinks, or both. Who knows.

But I didn’t get to rest for too long because we had to be up early to beat the church rush for BBB – Big Bad Breakfast. One of the things I miss most about living in the south is having grits and biscuits for breakfast. And grits made the right way: full of milk, butter and coarse in texture. Allison and Max were gracious enough to let me try some of the grits they ordered, because I opted to get the biscuit with my meal.

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What I did order was delicious though: much-needed coffee, egg white omelet, that buttery biscuit and some sweet potato hash. All were delicious and not too heavy! I also bought some homemade strawberry jam to bring home with me because I probably ate like 1/4 cup of it with breakfast.

After breakfast, we decided we needed a legit walk and not just walking around town like we had been doing. We decided to head out to Holly Springs National Forest and hike for a bit, and hike we did!! I think we spent about 2+ hours hiking around the woods, which at times was kind of scary because we found out the land is pretty heavily inhabited by wild hogs. And you do not want to come across a wild hog. We saw some fresh wild hog poo all over the place, and evidence of where they burrowed through the leaves and ground.

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The forest, however, was beautiful. I forgot how the backwoods of MS could really be beautiful and very quiet. ….At times a little too quiet, but still nice! As the sun was setting, we decided to be smart and head on out before we got stuck in the dark with some peccaries!

After a much-needed nap, we realized it was well past dinner time and we were ready to cook our Indian feast! I made some mango pickle for the two of them (which should be ready to eat soon!) and we made: dal, channa and aloo mattar complete with mango lassis, rice and naan. While the food continued to cook, Allison and I snuck away to watch the weekly episode of Downton.

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My last full day in Oxford included visiting the Ole Miss campus, which instantly felt like home. I can’t tell you the amount of times I wandered through the halls of Carrier Hall (where my dad’s office was and where he taught) and just remembering my way through it again! Or walking through the famous Grove or Circle and walking by the Lyceum. Ole Miss really is a beautiful campus.

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Me with the Lyceum!

Allison and Max both work for the university – she’s a geologist and he’s an EE who works on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV’s) on the gulf. They both showed me their offices and some of the work they do, which always fascinates me. I always tell her she needs to come explore the UP and see all the geological splendors up here – hint hint ;)

After walking around Ole Miss we met up with a mutual friend I haven’t seen in 20 years, Emilie.

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We met the internet-famous hedgehog Olive :)

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Me. Emilie and Allison

It was like no time had passed with us, which is one of my favorite things about having friends who live far away. It never really feels like they are far away! Thanks for making time for us, Emilie! It was so, so good to see you and meet the animals. Let’s not wait another 20 years before we see each other!

After a quick sushi dinner at Toyo where we also met up with some other friends, we headed back to Allison and Max’s and I helped them make some mead from honey they harvested from their bees! We even to try some of the mead they had bottled from three years ago. They also sent me home with a bottle of honey they harvested this year, which is delicious. It’s amazing how knowledgable they are about beekeeping and all that comes with it. The mead making process was so interesting and actually quite simple — honey, water, some yeast and food for the yeast, ferment for a month, then bottle and let it age!

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The next morning we kind of lounged around, I packed up and we headed to Memphis so I could fly home.

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I know I haven’t seen Allison and Max since my wedding in 2011, but it didn’t feel like it’d been that long. I can’t thank them enough for taking time off work to drive me around, drive me to and from Memphis, treating me to some delicious meals and just welcoming me into their home. They definitely have the southern hospitality thing going and I’m so grateful that even after all these years, we’ve remained as close friends as we are. Here’s to the next adventure the three of us might have!

What fun trips are you looking forward to this year?

 

 

Aparna in Wonderland

This past weekend I was able to indulge in a treat fit for a queen! …Of hearts, that is. REB and I went to Mad Hatter Bistro/Bar/Tea Room in Birmingham, MI (about 60 miles northeast of Ann Arbor in metro Detroit). 

Before we go any further, I need to preface that anyone who knows me well knows how much I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and generally, all things Alice in Wonderland. It’s one of my favorite books/stories of all time and I love both the original story by Lewis Carroll, but also the Disney version. My sister and best friends even threw me a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for my bridal shower before I got married! My office has several copies of the book that I’ve been collecting versions over the years. If I ever see a copy with new illustrations, or cover art, or in a different language, I get it. It’s probably silly or nonsense, but…”if I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense!”

So anyway, when I had heard last year (or maybe it was even the year before) there was a tea room, bar and restaurant opening near Detroit that would be Alice in Wonderland-themed, I have been dying to go. I finally decided to make it happen over the weekend. REB was gracious enough to accompany me – major points to him!

The ambiance of this place was very whimsical. It was not a formal tea place, like what REB and I experienced when we went for high tea in Copenhagen last year. That place was a typical place for high tea, where they brewed their own tea blends, had fine china and only open for a few hours a day strictly for tea.

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This place was definitely more like a hipster bar and had a whimsical charm. Dimly lit upstairs, the walls had an array of Alice in Wonderland memorabilia complete with playing cards, clocks, checkered paint details, tea pots, etc.

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I was actually a little concerned that we would be having tea in such a darkly lit place. But then we were taken downstairs where it was a complete 180! They had a cute little tea room downstairs where the walls were covered with fake grass/turf, little water fountains were displayed, the ceiling had silk roses (in red and white!) hanging from it, mismatched tea cups and saucers sat on each table and each table donned a different style and shape of arm chair.

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One thing people need to know about this place is that you have to make a reservation for a tea party. I think if you were to go in for brunch, drinks or dinner you wouldn’t need one, but they do state on their web site that for a tea party, you have to make a reservation. Their weekends fill up pretty quickly, I guess! I also took a look at their tea menu since it’s a fixed price but you receive the following: Three-tiered stand filled with finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream (or marscapone here), jam/curd, and small local pastries and fruit, and of course, bottomless tea! The finger sandwiches included a salmon one, so when I called to make the reservation I had mentioned we were vegetarian which they took note and said we would just get their vegetarian option.

REB and I first tried different teas and then shared the second pot. The first one I had was a Paris blend of vanilla and caramel and he went simple with English breakfast black tea. The second time around, we got a pot of their Mad House Blend which had strong hints of cardamom — it was delicious!

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Next up: the food! Like I stated earlier with the tea party you receive a three-tiered stand with the bottom layer having cucumber and mint finger sandwiches, canapes of artichoke and spinach; and red pepper and hummus. The second tier had four scones – two chocolate chip, two lemon poppy seed and they came with lemon curd and marscapone cheese (no clotted cream on this side of the pond :( ). The final tier had mini desserts of lemon cheesecake, a chocolate chip cake cookie, fudge brownie and nutella and cream parfaits.

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Overall the food was pretty good. My biggest disappointment was that I noticed other tables that had the meat/salmon option for the finger sandwiches had those plus the things we had. I had hoped and kind of wished that because we said we were vegetarians, they would have just given us more of the cucumber and mint sandwiches, but they didn’t. Kind of a bummer and rip off, but what we did have we liked.

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Lemon poppyseed scone with marscapone and lemon curd

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As stated before, the tea party was a fixed price, which is a touch on the spendy side. It costs $24/person and tip is not included. You’re definitely paying for the ambiance, experience and location (Birmingham is a pretty affluent city).

I thought back to what we spent in CPH and if we had done a similar tea menu there like we did here, it was roughly 225KR which is $32.50, so I guess it’s at least cheaper than Europe! Of course, we didn’t do that in CPH so it was cheaper, but still. Good to know!

I don’t know that we will go here again, at least not for a tea party. Their main menu and brunch menu sound really delicious and have fun names for all the items, though! So that might be worth a try. Having said that, price aside, I could see this being a cute place to have a party for a little girl or something, though it would likely cost quite a bit.

I am glad we went. It was cute, fun and I appreciate the detail they put into making it feel like you were in the hedge garden and having tea with the Mad Hatter and March Hare. And like the Mad Hatter always says….

What about you? Have you ever “splurged” on something silly like a dining experience?

Yeah I’m Alive

Well well well. Lookie who it is.

I have no excuse for my blog absence except that I was just out doing my thing in life and most of you probably follow me on Instagram and have seen what I’ve been up to the past few…years. Yikes. Has it seriously been like two years? Whoops. I want to try to make a conscious effort to keeping this place updated because, well, I pay for it. And if anyone out there really does come here to see about updates, you will now hopefully have them!

All I can say is that 2015 totally kicked 2014′s butt. The year before last was a pretty hard one for both REB and myself. We had some pretty heavy family stuff going on, my job got ridiculously stressful (his too) and we had some other things happening. So I was glad that this past year was a nice change and for the better.

Here’s a quick recap of 2015!

• I traveled to Chicago a lot to see my nephew and spending time with him is the absolute best!  He’s growing up so, so fast!
• REB and I traveled to Europe in May for two weeks. We went to Amsterdam, Brussels/Ghent/Brugge and Copenhagen (even spent a day in Sweden!) It was unforgettable! I still need to go through the big round of photos I took.
• My photography business is still thriving and kept me busy for a big chunk of the year. I have my friend to thank for that since I assisted her again for may of the weddings in 2015. I also booked and commissioned my first wedding entirely on my own for one of my best friends.
• I traveled to San Francisco over the summer while REB had a training for work there. It was a “long weekend” type trip but was sufficient. We saw some really great sites, hiked/ran up and down those ridiculous hills, saw some friends and ate a lot of really great food! That city is a lot of fun. If it wasn’t so horribly expensive there, I could see myself living in northern Cali.
• I gave myself another pat on the back for my progression in my fitness. This past year marked some new records for me and I’m stronger than I have been in years! I also found a yoga studio I really love where one of my favorite instructors teaches and have been enjoying adding that to weekly routine.
• We attended a few weddings this year; One of course being my friend’s wedding I was the photographer for; one being one of REB’s best friend/college roommates in upstate NY; and another was one of our high school friends here in Ann Arbor. All were fun, beautiful and we’re so happy for the newlyweds!

All in all, it was a pretty superb year and has me optimistic that this year is going to be another good one, too. I’m looking forward to making some fun times happen which includes:

More travel! I’m visiting one of my best friends in the south, going to Vermont in April, trips to Chicago to see the nephew, sister and BIL, and possible trip to WY this spring. REB and I are also already planning our UK trip for 2017.
More photos! I’m happy to already have some sessions set up with families this year, plus hopefully helping my friend with weddings again
• More Canada! I hope to go to Toronto with my friend Amber again for TIFF in September
• More fitness! While I don’t have any set-in-stone fitness goals for myself, I do want to focus on improving my strength training and yoga progressions
• More events! This will be a year of events starting with some Spartan basketball games, Carly Rae Jepsen and Ellie Goulding concert and also seeing Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Stoked!
• More reading! I set another reading goal for myself. Follow me on Goodreads or follow along on my Instagram (#aebreads2016) to see what I’m reading and see if I can surpass my goal to read 40 books!
More blogging! I’d like to keep this place updated for all of you with general going-ons in my life, what I’m reading, product reviews of what I’m using, what I’m eating and where I’m going.
So, as much as it sucked to be away, I’m so glad to be back! I hope the rest of you are also back and here to stay and see what this year holds :)

Currently

…reading

…keeping fit with Running + Yoga + Bootcamp = Beast Mode 4-5 days a week.

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Photo courtesy of Amber

…running to
I’ve been on the treadmill in our basement (which has been working out beautifully!) and it faces the TV we have down there. Except the TV is not hooked up to cable; REB is using it as a gigantic monitor for his computer (Did I mention we have like 6 different laptops or computing devices in our house already? I married a compunerd!). While I run, I stream my Vevo playlist which has become my go-to running playlist! I’ve become accustomed to knowing when a certain song starts, I should be speeding up, slowing down, sprinting, etc. It’s been great!

  • Nelly Furtado – Promiscuous
  • Deadmau5 – Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff
  • Duke Durmont – Need U 100%
  • Big Sean feat. Nicky Minaj – Dance (Ass) Remix
  • Disclosure – Voices
  • Britney Spears – Work B***h
  • Disclosure – F For You
  • Britney Spears – Womanizer
  • Afrojack feat. Spree Wilson – The Spark
  • Britney Spears – Toxic

…feeling motivated!
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11 down, 9 more to go! I’ve been at the “10 pounds left” spot twice before and never accomplished it. I am determined more than ever to try to get there this time. Third time’s a charm, right?

…planning a mini vacay with REB out west this summer!
It took us a while to figure out where to go. We tackled with going back to Vermont, visiting Arches Nat’l Park (but doing that in October), San Fransisco (on my list, not so much his) or doing our big Seattle/Vancouver trip. But I think we just want a quick getaway and we’ve decided on Portland, OR! I’m pretty stoked.

…realizing I’ve had a total of four drinks since Jan 1. Whoa.

…in home improvement mode and happy because our master bedroom is almost finished!

…loving March Madness! Who’s with me? Go Green!

…obsessed with my new loose leaf tea travel mug

…still going strong with the 100 Happy Days project.

…loving my new haircut courtesy of my awesome stylist

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…proud of myself to finally be able to run continuously for 30 minutes and taking 30 seconds off my pace. 

…gearing up and putting ideas together for upcoming photo sessions with new and returning clients. I seriously can’t wait!

…more than halfway done with my reading goal for the year.

…looking forward to a weekend of fun and family.

What’s going on in your world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews Part 4

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I have to apologize a million times for my lack of blogging in the past few weeks. I had made a goal to try to blog at least once a month and I’m not exactly living up to that very well. I’ve made so many recipes and had so much to say and yet, simply did not have time to just share it with everyone. But, for those of you who follow me on social media, you’re in the know of what’s been up in my world!

The more important thing to task right now, though, is the next installment of book reviews! As of today I have read 16/30 books and it’s not even the summer yet! At this rate, I could wait until June to read the next book and still make my reading goal. I had thought about increasing my goal to 50, but I feel like I’d just be kicking myself in the ass if I do that, so we’ll leave it at 30 for now. On to the reviews!

  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Three words: OH. MY. GOD. I have been wanting to share my thoughts and review on this book for about a month now. This book was recommended to me by my bookworm friend Amber and I’m so glad she did. I could not put this book down. It’s in the thriller/mystery/suspense genre and you know me: I like trying to solve the case! This book follows journalist Scott McGrath as he tries to uncover the mystery behind the death of Ashley Cordova. She’s the daughter of the legendary, reclusive horror movie director Stanislas Cordova. No one knows what Cordova looks like, where he lives or anything about his overly private life. What we do know is that he has a huge fan base and people anxiously await the next film he makes. So when his daughter is found dead, we’re on the case! We encounter some very interesting characters the protagonist McGrath finds along the way who help him on his case, and we follow their journey as they try to find out what happened to her.

This story is absolutely fantastic and so creatively written and put together. It’s also very descriptive and haunting. There are actual newspaper clippings, interviews, photos, etc. to make it seem like you’re looking through case files like this incident actually happened and you’re right there with McGrath as he’s trying to figure out what happened to this girl. I have nothing bad to say about this book except that I wish we could have maybe read it from Ashley’s perspective too. Like, what was going through her head before her death. But maybe that would give away too much. Either way definitely pick this one up. You won’t regret it.

  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Soooo…yeah. Red Rising. Remember how I was, like, obsessed with reading this book because it was the first book in my and Amber’s book club? It was reviewed as being similar to Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games Series. Uh yeah, please scrap everything great you heard me say about it. Such a bummer. This book is the first in the Red Rising trilogy and follows the story of Darrow, a guy who works the mines (helldrivers, they’re called) on Mars. Except it’s Mars in the future! He’s a Red, which is a type of caste or class in the entire society they’ve built there. He and his wife Eo are so in love, but when they leave the boundaries of their village, they are caught and convicted of going against their class and being “curious”. So naturally they’re sentenced to death. Then the revolution begins.

This book had so much promise. It really did. It was deemed in our library’s (and other book websites) hot list for best books of February. It’s already a New York Times Bestseller (but I never pay attention to that because some truly awful books make that list). Within a week of his book releasing, the author, Pierce Brown, announced a movie was already in the works. This book isn’t similar to The Hunger Games ….IT IS THE HUNGER GAMES. I totally get that people will take inspiration from other SciFi/Fantasy books, but you have to wait more than the three years a really successful series has been out to do this. The writing is barely tolerable. Because. He writes really. Really. Short sentences. To be dramatic maybe. I don’t know. Annoying. It’s not all that descriptive because he repeats the same things over and over again and we’re introduced to characters out of the blue and with no background or context. Some parts make absolute no sense because he will talk about a certain event that seems interesting, and then it’s never mentioned again. It’s just sort of all over the place. He takes way too much “inspiration” from Game of Thrones plot lines and settings, that it’s surprising he’s not being sued for plagiarism. This book got two stars from me on Goodreads. I also don’t think I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. I just don’t see how it can get any more exciting because this first one fell short.

  • The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

This book was another “meh” book for me. I had added it to my “to read” list because it was another book based on an Indian family and I like to show my people major love. It follows the story of Hassan Haji as he recounts his life growing up in Mumbai when a tragedy forces he and his family to move to France. They start a small restaurant in the mountainside there and quickly it becomes successful as many French people there had never eaten Indian food before. However, across the street is a very fancy French restaurant and the woman who owns that restaurant is not happy when Indians inhabit the small village where she lives. She’s also not overly thrilled to have them as competition in the restaurant world because they are becoming so successful. But to her horror, she finds out that Hassan, a then-skinny-awkward teenager, can cook like a pro. It’s a cute story, a very easy read, but it didn’t keep me interested and excited. It was kind of linear. No real “oh my god” moments or gotcha’s or anything like that. It’s a sweet read about a guy looking back on his life and how he got to where he is. It makes me want to go back to France, but other than that, meh. It’s not a bad read, but only three stars from me.

  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This is another one of those typical YA books where two kids in high school who have nothing in common somehow become friends and something more. Eleanor is the heavier-set, uncontrollable-curly-haired more-impoverished girl who gets teased a lot in school for her lack of high-end clothing and minimal social circle. Park is the skinny, stereotypical smart half-Korean kid who likes to read comic books, has a lot of friends, listens to 80s British rock bands and comes from a pretty typical middle class family. He and Eleanor ride the same bus to school and one day, she has to sit down next to him and their friendship forms…in a strange, but cute way. The story takes a weird, unexpected turn in the middle-to-end, but it was a quick, easy read about two “star-crossed lovers” who are in the midst of young love, but experience challenges. It’s not the most revolutionary book I’ve read, but if you want a quick read to finish in 1 or 2 days, or if you like books like Spectacular Now, then pick this up!

  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I love, love love Jhumpa Lahiri. One of my favorite books of all time is The Namesake, which was written by her. It was a book I could relate to about coming to America and not feeling like you’re part of your Indian heritage anymore, but you don’t quite fit into American life either. So given my response to that book and given I loved her book of short stories/essays, I was super excited to read her newest book The Lowland. However, I was a little disappointed, I have to say! I hate saying that, but in comparison to her other writings, this didn’t surpass them. This story is about two brothers who are 15 months apart, Udayan and Subhash. They are caught in the Naxalite, a communist guerilla event that took place in India in the 1950s/60s. Subhash ends up leaving India and heads to America, while Udayan stays to be part of the revolution. When Subhash hears some tragic news, he returns to India and that’s where the story truly unfolds. It’s a very haunting book with some dark turns and moments. It’s emotional, but again, it didn’t wow me. Compared to something like The Namesake, this sort of fell short for me. However, I love Jhumpa so much; she’s one of my favorite authors. She is a beautiful writer that’s for sure. Fans of hers should definitely read this book!

So there we have it! I have to be honest: there were two books I got from the library that I ended up returning and nixed off my list (for now). There were other books I received that I felt would be better to read now over the others. The ones that were nixed, will make it back to my list eventually this year, I’m sure! So what I’m currently reading now is This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathon Tropper. I believe this book is being made into a movie, which will star the ever wonderful Jason Bateman. Anyway, following that I will be reading Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining from Stephen King. Then after that, I hope to start Cujo, also by Stephen Knig, which will be the next book in my and Amber’s reading club.

Happy reading!

What books are you currently reading?

Book Reviews Part 3

Here’s the next installment of book reviews! According to Goodreads, I’m 9 books ahead of my 2014 goal, which is 37% done. I have a feeling I’ll exceed the 30-book challenge, which is A-OK with me. That just means I’ll need to up my game and increase my reading goal next year. So since the last book reviews post I have read 4 more books, and currently reading one as well. So let’s do this!

  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon

This book was recommended to me by Amber. She had said it was one of her favorite books of all time, and since I was in a lull waiting for books at the library to become available, I decided to read this in the interim. My friend Jackie’s husband was also reading it at the time! The book takes place in 1945 Barcelona and follows the story of Daniel, who, after the recent death of his mother, finds a book with the same title tucked away in a bookstore. He finds out that this book is a bit “controversial” because he finds out there is a man who goes around burning every copy of the book, which has Daniel wondering why. So he goes on an epic journey around Barcelona to find out about the author of the book, and what the mystery is behind the man wanting to burn each copy. It wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t get more than 3/5 stars from me on Goodreads. It just didn’t have me reeled in until some where in the middle. It was a bit slow moving, but the descriptions of the city of Barcelona are absolutely fantastic. I felt like I was there, with Daniel, on this epic exploration of the city. The back of the book also had a map tracing where Daniel went in Barcelona, which I guess fans of the book do! Note to self: When I go to Barcelona, walk Daniel’s steps!

  • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

I wanted to read this book ever since I saw her as a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and she made him speechless with her words. At only 16 years old, she is the youngest person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, too. When she was 15 years old, she was shot by the Taliban because she did a lot of speeches in her home country of Pakistan encouraging people to support a girls’ right to an education, which of course did not sit well with some folks who believed a woman’s place was not in school. This book was captivating and honest. I know many countries still oppress their women (India is still a country that does this in some parts), but to read the way young girls were viewed at the height of the Taliban and post-9/11 made me so angry. I would seriously shout at the book while reading. The book has a co-author, Christina Lamb, who I think helped translate the book if Malala dictated parts to her. I felt some of that got lost in translation so at times, the book was kind of dull. With such a title like standing up for education and getting shot, I expected her inspiring talks about peace and a women’s right to education to be immediate in the story line, but there was a lot of back story — some of which I felt was unnecessary. However, I know why there is back story, of course. Regardless, give this book a read. For being twice her age, all I kept thinking was, “Why couldn’t I be this wise and smart at 16?”

  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

I have many friends, myself included, who are huge fans of the show, so I knew this was on my must-read book. I probably should have read this before watching the show though. The show almost makes a mockery of what happened and is completely campy in comparison to the novel. I guess they can’t have the show be like the book, because it wouldn’t be that interesting. My brother-in-law was skeptical that this woman actually got tried for her crime in money laundering or drug money trafficking, but it’s actually true. She did get indicted and then had to go to court 5 years later, and then was sentenced almost 10 years after the crime happened. It was interesting to read about her time in prison, and how the prison system works, but again, I shouldn’t have watched the show before reading. In comparison it was kind of boring to read. Like OK, she was in prison for 15 months and the prison she went to was actually pretty nice in comparison to other women’s facilities in the country and hardly anyone is mean to her, so…ta-da…? But I will say this: it’s still worth a read because it does give you an inside look at what goes on, which was the interesting part to read. And to read how she got into her situation. It’s a quick read (under 300 pages), but unfortunately, I didn’t give it 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads.

  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This was another interim book while waiting for a book at the library. I had heard about this book from many folks. It’s the story of a girl living in Paris, Sarah, during WWII and one night in 1942 she and her parents are taken away by the French police in an event called Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Basically Jewish family’s were rounded up by French police, brought together, and then sent off to concentration camps. Before leaving, she makes her little brother hide in their apartment and promises to come back for him. Meanwhile in the present (well, 2002) Julia, an American journalist living in Paris is writing about this horrible event. She starts uncovering the mystery of the girl, the story behind what happened and how she is connected to this girl. It was a very easy book to read and I loved the different perspectives, reading about what Sarah was going through in 1942 and what Julia is going through in the present. It was very sad to read and made me once again question why this horrible, tragic event ever happened in the world. It’s heartbreaking really. Definitely pick it up.

And that brings us to what I’m currently reading which is Red Rising by Pierce Brown. It’s on the February hot-list of must-read books and is the first in the Red Rising Trilogy. I haven’t read anything by this author, but both Amber and I are reading this together, like a mini book club. Since we’re both into Sci-Fi and it’s been said to be like Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, it has me intrigued. Check back in a few weeks for that review and I’m sure more!