The Texas Black Expo delivered on Texas size fun!

The Texas Black Expo is just what you may expect, but sooo much more.  The expo is a great opportunity not only to support black owned businesses, but also offers some great showcases and seminars from everything from entertainment, to health and wellness to real talk from successful professionals.  Last weekend I had the opportunity to not only check out some of the great vendors at the expo but also get a little insight in the age old question, what are the differences between men and women?  In the Diva Dialogues Entertainment Attorney Jalene Mack brought together a power packed panel to take on the challenge of “The Great Divide” and see just how different do many and women feel about things from business to love and relationships.

This Texas Black Expo seminar was a great look into the differences, sometimes subtle, sometime distinct, between how men and women see the world. This type of conversation can either be lots of fun or down right argumentative so it was an extra bonus that Jalene was not just an entertainment attorney but an actor as well, and able to keep everyone both on task and having fun.  With a feisty panel of professionals you who are enjoying themselves and openly sharing you almost cannot help yourself but get wrapped up in the fun.  The panelists ranging from philanthropist, to attorneys, to radio station owners, to successful entrepreneurs and even a special guest Golden Brooks, a successful actress and business owner most known for her role on Girlfriends.

So what is the take on the great divide? Actually in listening to the responses you begin to understand women and men are looking at the same side of the different coin.  Although initially it may seem like two completely different approaches, the more you communicate and open your mind the more clarity you see on the differences.  Whether big or small, however, the panel offered some great insight on how they take on the challenges of being a business owner.  Here are a couple of pearls that most of us know, but often forget to apply and use in the way to approach both business and life:

  • Jalene Mack – Entertainment Attorney and founder of MPAC: On networking Jalene recommends entering into it with purpose. When you are focused in on finding opportunities you make sure networking actually enhances your business.
  • Golden Brooks – Actress and Entrepreneur: When faced with the challenge of being an African American woman in business Golden found strength by walking in her own light. By knowing herself she is not diminished by others but can use it as a basis of celebration for the unique person she is and the distinctive gifts she brings to the table
  • CleRenda McGrady – Author and Philanthropist – in referencing her favorite movie scene in The Wizard of Oz CleRenda draws strength from the idea that the power is within you all along, you just have to believe it for yourself.
  • Velma Trayham – PR Expert recommends business owners really invest the time and energy to know their market. When you don’t waste time and money focusing on being everything to everyone you can focus on making real connections with your target audience
  • Keisha Nicole – DJ for 97.9 The Box: In speaking to purpose Keisha is inspired by knowing that if God gave her a purpose, he also blesses with the gifts and capacity to carry it out if you are willing to put in the work.
  • Al Rucker – owner of Midtown Bail Bonds – For those who do not network Al recommends using the energy to focus on building their brand. After time a strong enough brand gets people searching for them instead of the other way around.
  • Danny Norris – Attorney with Norris & Norris Attorneys Essential tips for starting a business are to work out a business plan, a mentor, and the capital needed to get the business off the ground
  • Marcus Bowers – Owner of She’s Happy Hair – In his journey to hair mogul Marcus made a commitment to himself to just try to be better every day than he was the day before
  • Oscar Hines – Owner of KYND Radio shared his favorite quote that captured his life philosophy – “It’s not the number of breaths you have in life, it is the number or moments that take your breath away”

All in all the Texas Black Expo is a great way to support your community with businesses you love and others you have yet to fall in love with. Most importantly it is a great opportunity to have more breath taking moments and learn something along the way.

Big eats and even bigger charity at Big Taste of Houston

If you are looking for a party with a purpose infused with great drinks and food then look no further than the Big Brothers Big Sisters Big Taste of Houston.  Big Brothers Big Sisters has always been a charity that inspired me.  With a strong commitment to providing diverse mentorship to area youth the non-profit is based off the principals that giving back does not have to be ordinary.  The Big Taste of Houston is another nod to this idea as you have the opportunity to taste some of the best bites Houston has to offer while raising money for this worthy cause.

The premise is just as it sounds, fabulous local restaurants and chefs dig deep in putting together big bites of some of their best or newly created dishes. From braised short ribs to oysters shucked to order there were bites big enough to satisfy even the hungriest Texan.  It always brings a smile to my face when I see some of my favorite local restaurants participating as I know the competition will really get their creative juices flowing.  Restaurants like Uchi and North Italia really outdid themselves on coming up with delectable treats that you just could not say no to.

No question the party was great, but there is no forgetting the great purpose behind it all as some of the cities shining stars turned out to support. Although the tastes were definitely big, the auction prizes were arguably bigger.  From a silent auction full of goodies to an Audi A3 giveaway there were so many ways to support the Big Brothers Big Sisters while coming away with something amazing for yourself in the process.  With the panel of celebrity judges and beautiful people enjoying the night the event was hard to beat.  The perfect balance of drinks flowing and music bumping and charitable giving made the big Taste of Houston a must do on any foodie’s annual calendar.

Tampa Girls Weekend Fun

Birthdays are a perfect excuse to visit long distance friends so I recently hopped to Tampa for the weekend to get a taste of this South Florida destination and celebrate with friends. A weekend trip for a purpose is great as you get to wash away some of the excuses that normally plague a short trip.  Instead of worrying about ticket prices or how to work time off in your hectic schedule it becomes a lot easier to just bite the bullet and commit.  When you are visiting a new city the choice is even more tempting as you can get some of the highlights of a city in a very fun weekend with friends.

For this trip as I have amazingly chic friends I got some of the best food and drinks that the city of Tampa had to over. Fresh off the plane, thanks to a prime airport location, I quickly started my Tampa tour and the super sophisticated Ocean Prime.  This was my first time trying this is a national restaurant chain and I was definitely not disappointed.  The lounge and bar area have a cool kids vibe flowing from the staff to the guests.  The smoking Berries and Bubbles cocktail caught my eye as soon as I walked in and with first sip I was in love.  The food and service combined with this intoxicating cocktail started my night off on a high note.  To keep the party going in Tampa is easy as pie as they have several bar areas which making something you like a breeze.  As bar hopping is a serious past time of mine it was easy to go from grunge, to bar, to hookah, and even to live music so finding something up your alley is almost guaranteed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a long night of fun and a nice day of taking advantage of some of the great shopping Tampa had to offer it was time for a birthday dinner. Where else should you celebrate one of your most fabulous friends than the world renowned Bern’s Steak House.  To say the restaurant is a culinary experience is an understatement.  From the ornate decorations to the completely separate dessert restaurant the experience at Bern’s is top of the line.  While I am not a big steak person, I could not resist as you look at the giant menu of options.  Even more exciting is that you come in with the expectations you are about to give away your first born for your meal and I was pleasantly surprised with the cost of the food considering we got course after course of exquisite dishes.  For some extra bonus points you have the opportunity after your meal to tour the kitchen, including in house butcher, and wine cellar.  A great way to appreciate your gastronomic adventure at Bern’s even more.

 

Now of course everything I did in Tampa did not consist of food and drink but those were definitely some highlights. All in all Tampa was a cool city that had a mix of small town closeness with stylish city flare.  With their closeness to the water and constant festival city one thing is for certain, Tampa and its residents know how to have fun!

The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair 2017

While the Houston area may boast several events for wine and food enthusiast, the ultimate food and wine celebration in Houston is the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair.  Over the past 6 years Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair has been raising the bar on the culinary standards in the city with a decadent celebration of food, wine and spirits in a collaboration that is truly unforgettable.  This year the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair is making some exciting changes to the mix to not only showcase some of the best food Houston has to offers and the top tier of wine and spirits from around the world.  Attendees win as the festival gives you an insider’s glimpse that will take your knowledge and appreciation to the next level.

In lieu of some of introductory events the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair will take on the road as teacher as it showcases food and wine in a more intimate setting.  In order to provide the perfect setting the On the Rocks Bartender Challenge has been replaced with private dinners to kick off the weekend festivities.  Choosing either the Boiling Point seafood boil or The Italian Invasion Dinner guests can mix great food and wine with intimate company and some great insight as they enjoy their favorites or try something new.  Additionally the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair has added several learning experiences that guest can attend Friday and Saturday.  There is nothing like identifying the why of your love for some of your favorite flavor profiles.  Taking the time to get deeper into the educational side only strengthens your appreciation for your favs and gives you clues on how to find other top picks based on your own palette.

The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair made sure not to mess with the best, with their program changes, and Friday nights Grand Tasting is sure to be one for the books.  The Sugar Land Marriott Town Square serves as the perfect location to meet food and wine nirvana.  With everything from inventive culinary creations (I still dream about the upscale Frito pie) and tried and true favorites from HEB and local restaurant superstars the event provides a something for everyone in an unforgettable night.

Other favorites, such as Saturdays Sip and Stroll will keep more recent location changes, now done at Constellation Field but enhanced it with a two day option so you have all of Saturday and Sunday to get a chance to grab your favorite bites and beverages while enjoying some of the great performers who always deliver during the event. As the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair promises more of the core that has built its following as well as some great new opportunities to appreciate the food and wine on a different level this event is going to be a must on any food and wine lover’s schedule.

Closing out Tokyo by honoring history

Japan is a very eclectic mix of old and new, but on my last day I had to dive into some of the history that makes Japan unforgettable with a visit to their Imperial Gardens and Samurai Museum. A last day on any trip can feel a little overwhelming as you sort through things missed and those you can’t miss.  My last day I decided to split between something important to me and something important to my daughter.  Frist stop was the Imperial Gardens as they were within walking distance from my hotel.

One of my main priorities in choosing Tokyo as a destination was just to relax and find a space to clear my head after dealing with a personal loss. While Japan overflows with beautiful gardens, something about the regal nature of the Imperial Gardens called to me and we off set to explore the grounds.  With several entrances to the Gardens make sure to get a clear idea on where you want your access point to me.  The Gardens are divided into a ground level portion and a different section on a steep incline.  If you go to the wrong entrance you have a steep hick ahead of you.

The Gardens offered me just what I was looking for, a serene place where you can sit back and enjoy nature.  Part of why this is such a tourist destination is how the Japanese make serenity an art, carefully plotting out waterfalls, coy ponds, bridges and monuments to give you an opportunity to carefully observe and appreciate the thoughtfulness of design.  Serving a delicate balance of nature and how human artistry can work to enhance, not take away from the beauty of nature.  With my mind feeling calm it was time to hop to my daughter’s top pick, the Samurai Museum.

Just as it sounds the Samurai Museum is an ode to the discipline, culture, and exquisiteness of the Samurai culture. The museum offers English tours of everything from the dress to a history of their battle skills and rise and fall of the samurai culture.  There is something quite special about an interactive museum as it gets you a chance to not only learn more about a culture you admire but to take a small step in their footsteps to see just how amazing their life and devotion to their craft were.  Perhaps it was all the karate movies my daughter watched her whole life but this tour gave her life.  Add in the opportunity to try on a Samurai outfit and hold a sword and this was one of the highlights of her trip.  Make sure to plan extra time for the tour as they have daily Samurai fighting exhibition that we had to miss to make a break for the airport.  All of the fun new culture Japan offers have a distinct line to their proud and innovative past that demands some reverence to their beautiful history.

 

Day One in Tokyo – Asakusa history, beauty and fun

Getting a real vibe for a new city usually means getting emerging yourself in that culture so getting hands on in Tokyo will probably lead you to the Asakusa area.  This was the top recommendation from the hotel concierge when we checked on what to do in Tokyo so we gathered our city and train station maps and set out to see what all of the fuss was about.  One of the things I love most about Tokyo is their train system.  Admittantly I got a little flustered when I could not get my credit card to work but after exchanging some cash the English prompts and signs made it easy to get around the city not to mention the price was right.  With Asakusa just eight stops down from the Ginza district we were off for some Tokyo exploration.

While the train offers English prompts everywhere, the streets signs from Tokyo do not so getting your bearings quickly is an important tool in making it around town. As maps have never been my strength, I had to rely on my following skills by pegging other visitors and following behind others who seemed to have a sense of where we were going.  As I began to see more and more stores and shops pop up I knew we were in a visitor friendly part of town and learned what we were in the Nakamise shopping area.  These rows of shopping streets have everything from Japanese snacks to souvenirs in every shape, size, and form.  It is a great place to find something for friends and family at home as there are offers from the very cheap fans and cards to luxury kimonos and swords in between the open air market and store front areas.  As we hit the Kaminari Gate it truly struck me of the majesty, beauty and history that was sure to make the trip one of a lifetime.

After some wandering around we got to the main attraction for Asakusa, the Sensoji Temple.  This Buddhist temple built over thirteen hundred years ago is a great introduction to some beautiful Buddhist traditions. From the handwashing station to the prayer walls it was a great place to gain some reverence for a culture not your own.   This is definitely one of the places I wish I hired an English tour guide to give me a true understanding of some traditions that I stumbled through by watching others.  The temple and surrounding gardens are a great place to wander around and just take in some of the beauty.  As my trip was in the fall the leaves were falling and it was a great place to sit and relax or have a leaf throwing party that really just reminds you what a blessing it is just to be alive.  Either way the beauty of the city quickly welcomes you in making the city seem a lot less foreign in a lot less time.

With all the things to see in Asakura what went from a planned stopped turned into an all-day affair. From my daughters quest to try new favors at the food vendors to my kimono instructional there is so much to do and learn in the Asakusa area.  If the walking of the day has you pooped you can also hop in a water taxi or a ricksaw to cap off a day of exploration the beautiful and historic Asakusa area.

Squeezing in the fun with two days in Chicago

At least once a year I try to make it my business to visit my favorite US city, Chicago, for a whirl of fun, friends, family and of course food. My most recent trip afforded me 2 days to get all the fun I could squeeze out of Chicago with my two favorite travelers, my kids, in tow.  With a weekend base camp of the Hard Rock Hotel on the Magnificent Mile I took off right away to get reacquainted with a city I adore.

It’s hard to tell if it’s my loved ones that make the city fun for me or if my friends and family there embody the spirit of the city, explaining my love for both. Chicago is brazen and busy and metropolitan but it still has woven in it the love of life that appreciates art and food and friends that keep me coming back for more.  Automatically at the top of my agenda is to connect with people, but there is no reason that cannot be combined with some other city highlights.  Of course food is supreme in Chicago so be it brunch at Yolk or a deep dish Pizza at Giordano’s there are some things that are undeniably often imitated and rarely duplicated on the Chicago food scene.

My top highlights from the trip, however, were not my usual food fest. Instead something old and something new took the cake.  On the something old side a walking tour of the Magnificent Mile area always does my heart good.  Coming from Houston where walking is rare I love how easy the city is to maneuver by foot and all the possibilities at hand.  In an afternoon of walking you can explore Millennium Park and its art installations, meet new friends for you kids, wander in and out of shops, and get some great live street entertainment.  All these things make Chicago the constant top pick for US city.  On the new side I was able to do something that has escaped me before, Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula.  From first stepping into the hotel I knew it was something magical and afternoon tea was a great mix of prim and proper with smiles and giggles from the opportunity to spend great time with great friends.  The champagne that comes with tea doesn’t hurt either.  All in all Chicago gives you a chance to do almost anything under the sun, even in a pop in pop out weekend.

Off to the races with the TL Charity Polo Match

Almost any reason to dress up and wear a hat is a good one but when it adds in charity, polo, and picnic you have a first class reason to pull out all the stops. At the Tomorrows Luminaries Charity Polo Match at the Chukkar Farm Polo Club you get a great day time party, polo match, and some of the best dressed in Atlanta all in one place.  One of the things I love best about events where you dress to the nines is that looking great puts people in a great mood.  When you are feeling your best you can’t help but smile and the feelings and great vibes are contagious.  So despite the heat everyone was grinning from ear to ear as the Hendrick’s poured and the music enticed you to move to the beat.

The event is located in Alpharetta, Georgia and from someone who is not from Atlanta that means it is really far. As we took off on the really long ride that we were really late heading out for I began to wonder if it would be worth it.  We had to pack our own picnic, dress our own table, and make it all the way to the country to attend.  But as soon as we arrived and took in all the fabulousness at hand we knew the answer was absolutely yes!  We made our own spread of everything we liked but the guests around us were friendly and more than willing to share and point out some things that shouldn’t be missed.  Of course this included the Hendricks stations pouring up the one and only gin I will drink in some cocktails perfect for the occasion.  While you sit perched high upon a hill with a lovely polo match in play you realize this is one of the moments where being grown up and being able to appreciate new experiences is so great.  As the day moved on the great live band and subsequent friends and friends shots that continued made it truly and event and a day to remember.

A-Town Birthday Showdown

I love celebrating life so when a good friend calls with birthday plans in Atlanta chances are I’m going to try and join in on the good times.  My most recent trip to Atlanta was a great weekend getaway to celebrate friends, fun, and oh so many laughs.  Of course with a trip with 5 ladies there are going to be some standard checks on the things to do list, eat, shop, and party so away we went to paint the town red in Atlanta.

As a foodie, getting a taste of a city is always at the top of my list and no restaurant did it better for me on this trip to Atlanta than Serpas.  The restaurant does serve American food but with such an edgy twist on classics it leaves you wondering exactly where it came from and how you can get more.  The national acclaims have come flowing in and every bit of praise is completely worth it.  I had the Stuffed Airline Chicken and after my foodgasm I was pretty sure it was the chef’s way to ask me to marry him.  The chicken was both juicy and crunchy with a stuffing that made you lick your spoon stopping only long enough to stuff some savory mashed potatoes in your mouth.  Hmmm hmmm hmnmm, this restaurant will make you want to change your weekend plans.

Outside of food the question becomes where will you get all of your shopping and fun done in the city.  We just Buckhead as our base location because how close it is in the vicinity of great food and shopping.  When traveling with a group of five it is important to make things convenient enough for everyone to have their own freedom in doing things.  This way you don’t end up want to strangle someone for taking too long to get dressed or not wanting to stick to the pace you are on.  Although Buckhead is a great shopping location, there are few better central locations to party than downtown Atlanta.  The variety of clubs makes popping around a breeze so you can get everyone pumped based on their preference and ensure a good time is had by all!  The variation in the trip was key to ensuring we all got to celebrate as a group and do the things we enjoy individually as well.

Karaoke change up with a live band to back you up

karoke-at-the-alley-kat-4Your heart’s pumping, the music is thumping and it’s time for your moment in the spotlight!! Nope you are not really a star but for a couple of minutes when your song is up in karaoke, with a live band backing you up, you sure may feel like one.  I will never claim to be a great singer, but with karaoke being a cherished holiday past time for my family I have learned to perform and make the most of my karaoke selection.  On a random Friday night I wandered unto karaoke at The Alley Kat Bar with a twist!  As opposed to playing to recorded music, you get the chance to sing your karaoke with a live band, making the experience all more surreal.

Karaoke with a live band may not seem like much different than regular karaoke or even from the shower concert that you might put on every morning. This, however, does not give credit to the feel, timing, and even back up that a live band provides.  When I needed it they tried to harmonize, when I missed words they were there to pick me up, and just the natural feeling of getting amped up by musicians perhaps far more talented than you provides an extra boost of confidence that allows you to really hop into your karaoke character!

karoke-at-the-alley-kat-2 karoke-at-the-alley-kat-1 karoke-at-the-alley-kat-3karoke-at-the-alley-kat-liquid-courageSo regular me was lost for a moment, as the band began to play and the words began to stream upward I channeled my shower voice and my mirror dance moves and began to belt out the Eurthrmnics. Oh yes, Sweet Dreams were made of me once I got rolling and to the amusement or delight of the crowd I settled into an awesome night of fun.  Funny thing how much music came connect you with others and even yourself and as I wound down my time in the spotlight I realized that with the band included karaoke would never be the same.

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