Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Dig In

Ever since Avery was born, it seems like life had thrown Hubs and I one curve ball after another, as if a new baby wasn't enough on it's own.  There have been times where it feels like the stress is insurmountable, and like so many important decisions are lying in front of us.

We've managed to work through a number of these challenges, knocking them out one by one.   As the old saying goes, "How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time."

Well, last week felt like the week from Hell.

It was one of those weeks where I was running late to work every single morning, dealt with two contagious illness outbreaks at work (as an HR and safety manager for a healthcare company, these things tend to come up from time to time), one of my assistants resigned to go back to school full-time, and lots of other stuff (mostly work-related).  I have more work than I can even begin to do, and now I have two positions to fill.

On top of that, Avery had a HUGE week of firsts.  After sitting up completely on her own the week before, last week she decided to pull out all the stops by crawling, saying mama and dada AND cutting her first two teeth.  Yes, ALL IN THE SAME WEEK.  Hubs and I went from a relatively peaceful time with Avery to times where she's on the move every single second.  It's freaking exhausting.

Damn, that's a lot for one week.  Unfortunately, I don't see that the upcoming weeks will be much better, considering workload, things with the kiddo and other personal commitments.

On my way home from work on Friday, I was listening to some Bob Marley on the Margaritaville SiriusXM station, which sometimes helps to clear my brain after a stressful week.  While listening, I realized that when things get stressful, there are two kinds of people in this world:  The kind who throw their hands up in defeat and the kind who dig in and plow through the shit in their lives, solving problems and getting stuff done.

I'm the kind that digs in.

Stress sucks, but getting through tough times and coming out the other side with a smile and a sense of accomplishment is what makes me who I am.  I work hard and I don't give up.  I only start things that I intend to finish, and I always finish them.  Always.

So I'm going to continue to get through the workload and stress and projects, and work on being the best wife, mom, pet parent, sister, daughter, employee, boss, and friend I can be along the way.   While things aren't easy right now, the struggle is just part of life and I look forward to celebrating every victory, completion, and ending along the way.

I did get some nice kudos from my VP the other day, and I know my employees appreciate my work as their leader.  My husband appreciates my hard work and my baby lights up whenever we're together.  Hearing her say Mama when I picked her up the other day washed away the entire day's worries and stress.

My family is my center, my constant, and their appreciation means the world to me.  The validation from those at work and my family tells me that I'm on the right track, and I'm listening to my gut tell me when to forge ahead and when to take a step back.  My instincts and support from my personal and work families are what have to drive me when I feel like the unknown is just too much to bear.

But I dig in, and it will all get done in time.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Lovely Easter

This year we celebrate our first Easter as a family of 3, and had the wonderful opportunity to spend the weekend with my family at my parents' new house.  My sister, brother-in-law and niece joined us, and we had a fantastic time.

In preparation for the festivities, Avery had a wonderful meet-and-greet with the Easter Bunny...

The was so good, and she didn't lose her cool in the least.  Except when dealing with her shoes.  She fussed and refused to wear her shoes, so off they went and she was happy as a daisy from then on.

For Easter, Avery got a small Easter basket tailored just to her...

Avery received baby snacks, a stuffed bunny, three new bibs, a Mam teether, an awesome bunny-ear headband and a great Easter book.  She did quite well for her first Easter!

After we got dressed in our adorable Easter outfit and donned our bunny ears, Avery spent some time with her grandpa before the rest of the family came over.

Avery also got to try swimming for the first time over Easter weekend, to break in my parents' new swimming pool.  She took to it like a natural!  She absolutely loves the water, and now we're looking into enrolling her in infant swimming lessons.

It was a fantastic weekend.  My family was all wonderful, and Avery was such a happy baby.  We even put her in the Exersaucer out on the patio while we ate dinner and hung out, and she happily played while donning her shades.  She really is a great baby!

I hope you all had a lovely Easter!  We're now welcoming Spring and Summer with open arms!  Heck, it's already summer here in Florida, with it being in the 80s and 90s every day!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Avery is 7 Months Old!

So Avery Jane turned 7 months old a couple of weeks go, and I completely forgot about sharing her pictures with everyone!  Even my family wondered what was up.  Normally we stay right on top of that, but this occurred while we were wrapping up our kitchen remodel, doing our taxes, and trying to get some other things taken care of.  We were just crazy busy, ya'll.

But here is Miss Avery, in all of her 7 month glory...

This is Avery's RBF

She's so stinking cute!  She definitely had her daddy and I wrapped around her little fingers.

Happy 7-Months, Miss Avery!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Create Your Taste at McDonald's

For awhile now, it's been business as usual with McDonald's.  I occasionally purchased food from McDonald's when I needed a quick and predictable meal on my lunch break or a road trip, or when I was craving a delicious Southwest Salad (still my favorite menu item!).

Recently, I was offered an opportunity to visit a local Tampa Bay area McDonald's restaurant in Wesley Chapel, north of the city, where the owners and McDonald's chain are testing a new concept called Create Your Taste.

The Create Your Taste concept is unique on today's fast food scene, allowing consumers to place their orders for custom-created hamburgers using a touch-screen human-sized tablet in the restaurant's lobby.  The restaurants focus on the freshest, highest quality ingredients, and seek to give the customer an affordable hamburger that would cost double at any other sit-down restaurant.  The restaurant's Create Your Taste menu has dozens of different topping options, and even different bread (or non-bread!) options, offering a wide array of choices for those with dietary restrictions or seriously Type-A people who like to control everything.  Admittedly, I can relate to the second more than the first.

Custom burgers are only available for dine-in customers, but that may change someday and expand to the drive-through.  Eating in the restaurant was actually quite a treat, though, as the interior was newly remodeled and beautiful!

The modern, fun interior was surprising to me in the best possible way.
Then it's time to place your order.  I, of course, opted for a customer hamburger to see how this concept worked.  Here's how a custom burger is created...

Pick your meat...

Pick your wrap (Artisan Roll, Ciabatta Roll or Lettuce Wrap)

Pick your cheese (American, White Cheddar or Pepper Jack)

Pick your toppings....

Pick your sauce...

Review your order.

Voila!  Your custom burger has been created.  From here you can pick your sides and drink.  Burgers are all the same price (right around $5.00 each), and the only up-charges are for extra patties of meat ($1.00 each) or bacon ($1 for 2 strips).  In the value meal, medium fries are standard with a small up-charge for large fries or large/specialty drinks.  In addition, you can add standard menu items like Chicken McNuggets and Happy Meals to your order.

After choosing your menu items, you pick up a locator and enter the code onto the touch screen.

Grab a locator...

Type in your locator number so the server can find you when your custom creation is ready for delivery to your table.

Afterward, you then pay using the the credit card machine beneath the touch screen.

There is actually a special prep area for custom burgers in this McDonald's, run by it's own specially trained team of employees.  They have their own grill, they have their own bun toaster, their own refrigerators for cheese... everything.  And the staff truly own their roles, and take pride in creating great products.  When an order is completed, they ring a bell and put the basket in the window for pick-up by a staff member.

The staff brings your custom sandwich to you and their training is evident:  They serve from the right, just like at a fine dining restaurant!  My Ritz-Carlton brethren would be so,so proud.

Notice how the fries come in a tiny, little fry basket?  Awesome touch!
Here's my custom creation up close.  It's a burger on a Ciabatta bun with guacamole, chili-lime tortilla strips, lettuce, tomato and white cheddar cheese.  It was absolutely scrumptious!  The texture and flavors were outstanding.  I really do love a spicy burger!

During my tour of the restaurant by one of the franchise owners (who was absolutely delightful!), I sense great enthusiasm for his newly remodeled store, the Create Your Taste concept, and even the assembly area, where the Create Your Taste sandwiches are brought to life.  It was quite impressive and nothing like my former image of McDonald's, and that's just how he wanted it to be.  I saw the evolution of a pop culture icon, and it's only getting better.

They've even upped the ante with professional new uniforms and increased staff training, giving team members the opportunity to remake sandwiches or discard ingredients that don't meet their standards.  I found this so, so refreshing, and could see how engaged the staff members were with one another.  They were communicating well, smiling and seemed to be having fun on the job, which I LOVE to see.  I can tell that their empowerment of their staff members was making a big difference culturally, too.

Here was one of those attractive new uniforms on a smiley, happy team member...

Cute apron, right?  I was totally smitten, so they gave me my own!  No cook can have too many aprons.

Overall, I was excited to see that McDonald's is taking a step toward the new trend in custom, complex offerings for a more discriminating customer.  This concept is being tested in 20 restaurants across the country, and this is the only location in Florida.  If you have a chance, drive up I-75 to Wesley Chapel and check it out.  This concept will surely be a hit!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Give & Grub Food Truck - Stick it to hunger!

I love hearing about new corporate and charitable partnerships that benefit my local community.  So many organizations give back in big ways, and that warms my heart.  I've been an active volunteer on and off since I was a teenager, and feel that the community can help those in need through even the smallest of efforts.

I was contacted by a local marketing team that is promoting one such corporate charitable giving concept called Give & Grub Food Truck.  This is a partnership between The Laser Spine Institute and The Tampa Bay Lightning (our local professional hockey team), and the concept is quite unique.  The truck sells great quality meals around the local area and for each meal served and #GiveandGrub hashtag used, the organization gives away a meal to a child in need.  Pretty amazing, right?!

I was invited to an individual tasting, so I attended a truck stop event near my office after work one day.  The menu features gourmet takes on the players and coaches' favorite foods, and everything I tried was amazingly delicious! 

The food truck itself was decked out and had all of the bells and whistles--even beer taps, a built in cooler case and some huge, amazing skylights.  Never mind using it for food.  I'll just live in it.

Booo.... "Out of Order" :(

I sampled the Tacos, Mac and Cheese and a burger, and took everything home to share with my husband, who was on baby duty that evening.  I adored the freshness and authentic flavor of the tacos, and Hubs and I agreed that the food was far better than the vast majority food truck meals we've eaten.  All fresh, all well-cooked, all well-seasoned, and all made me want more!

Hedman's Steak Tacos
Coach Cooper's Candied Burger
Callahan's Mac Slam
Did I mention that they bake their own bread daily?  They do, and it's delicious!  Who doesn't love soft, warm brown bread?  (Think Outback Steakhouse bread used for a burger... yum!)

I met the chef, who was also a total delight.  You can really tell that this man loves his job and ability to partner with other organizations to serve a vital need in our community. 

I later attended an event that Give & Grub was hosting for the local blogging group, and was also able to try two new dishes:  A steak sandwich and sweet potato waffle fries drizzled with maple syrup and marshmallow cream.  The sweet potato fries were like dessert--so yummy and comforting.  The steak sandwich was also quite tasty and had the most tender steak, something I look for in any good steak sandwich.  Tough meat is a no-go for me, and this was divine!

Steak Sandwich and Sweet Potato Waffle Fries
(It's okay if your mouth is watering right now.)

My box of food to try, featuring a 1/2 Steak Sandwich, Sweet Potato Waffle Fries, a Steak Taco,
a cup of Callahan's  Mac Slam and 1/2 a Chicken Parmkos Sandwich.
We had a lot of fun at the blogger event as well, and I finally met some local bloggers who I just hadn't managed to bump into yet!

Thunderbug loves to show off Give & Grub meals

At the time of the event, purchased meals and hashtags used had generated 25,000 meals donated to needy children in Tampa Bay.  As of this past weekend, the purchased meals and hashtags had already generated 15,000 more meals for children, for a total 40,000 meals given away.  How impressive is that??

In case you're wondering, meals are given away to children at low-income schools where the vast majority of children are receiving free or reduced price school lunches.  Every Friday, schools are chosen and all children at those schools receive a backpack filled with 5 meals.  I'm astounded at the generosity of the Laser Spine Institute and the Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey Club.  It's wonderful to see two amazing organizations giving back in such a significant way.

Overall, you cannot miss out on trying the Give & Grub Food Truck if you live in the Tampa Bay area or you're here in April or May on vacation.  Seriously, I will never lead you wrong when it comes to good eats!

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Tampa, Florida, United States
I'm a wife, daughter and amazing twin sister. I'm a mom to my adorable dog, Bella. Loves: Shopping, cooking, baking, good grammar and Dave Matthews Band. I'm also a Bath and Body Works addict, a Michigan State Spartans fanatic, and an iPhone aficionado. I see beauty in simple things and little things make me ever-so-happy. Welcome to my world!

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