Many people in the United States decorate for the Christmas holiday. Some families start the day after Thanksgiving by picking up a Christmas tree or purchasing decorations. This year, my wife and I started Thanksgiving weekend by picking out a tree. We visited Simpson & Family N.C. Christmas Trees on Sharon Road across from Homewood Suites. They sell North Carolina grown Fraser Fir trees along with stands, bows, and garland. We liked the idea of supporting a family business in our state. My wife purchased 10 yards of Fraser Fir garland in addition to the tree and stand. The gentleman helping us put the stand on the tree and secured it to the roof of our automobile. The whole experience was very pleasant and we will definitely return next year.
Acquiring a real or fake tree is only the beginning of decorating for Christmas. Putting up stockings, hanging lights, and decorating a tree are all part of the process. My wife wanted to decorate for Christmas in a big way. We enlisted the help of our friend and experienced Christmas decorator, Kevin. After a successful trip to Michaels, Kevin and my wife were ready to bring holiday cheer into the home.
Kevin's skills with wiring and ribbon transformed our tree into a work of art. Gold leaves, pine cones, holiday ribbon, and beautiful ornaments encompassed our North Carolinian tree. After putting the finishing touches on the top of the tree, Kevin beautified the Fraser fur garland. The mantle that typically holds our gallery wall was turned into a Christmas landscape. We are very thankful for Kevin's help in transforming our home for the holiday season.
I recently went to a friend's house for a casual Magic: The Gathering (MTG) card game format called Cube Draft. Cubes are created by players using various old and new cards from the game. They contain 360 cards put in 24 specialized 15-card packs. Some players make themed cubes or include very powerful cards to make games interesting. A benefit of cubes is that they are reused over and over again. Typically, you draft with 24 sealed booster packs containing 15 cards. Once opened, sealed booster packs are not used again. Eight players are ideal for any drafting format using 360 cards, or 3 packs of 15 cards per player.
Alex, David, Ben, and I were the only players able to attend the recent Cube Draft night. Typically, we have six to eight players come to MTG game nights. Instead of having a normal cube draft, we decided to play a one-on-one format called Winston Draft. A Winston Draft uses 6 booster packs of 15 cards shuffled into one pile. The top 3 cards are laid out separately and face-down next to the large pile. The starting player looks at the first card. If they want the card they can take it; otherwise, they must add one additional card from the large pile. The player repeats the process for the next card laid out. If they pass over it, they once again add a card to it and look at the third face-down card. Finally, if all three cards are passed over, the player repeats the steps as stated before and takes a random card from the top of the large pile. Players go through this process until all cards are taken by either player. There is a risk-reward scenario when deciding to take cards. You can end up with a stack of 3-5 face-down cards continuously passed over and must decide if it is worthwhile to take it. Usually, taking a large pile means that at least half of the cards are unplayable for a specific strategy, but it opens up more options. Magic is a much deeper strategy game than many people realize; especially, when playing with a cube.
One of the great aspects of playing MTG in a casual setting is enjoying a few beverages while socializing with friends. Alex tries to host a monthly event to get everyone together. Formats change each month depending on player interest and new card set releases.
Alex and David started playing Magic in 1994 and quit a few years later. After a 20 year hiatus, they both returned to a game from their childhood. Alex's return to MTG started after his first child was born. He began looking for ways to have fun with friends while at home. What started as game nights with friends led to the creation of a Meetup group called the Queen City Game Club. The group brings together adults around Charlotte, NC interested in various strategy games and board games. Ben met Alex by attending various group gatherings. I asked Alex, David, and Ben what they enjoyed most about the game and why they play now.
Alex: "I like the depth of replayability. I came back after being invited to a draft in 2017 for the Hour of Devastation set."
David: "I got back into the game to teach my kids strategy and critical thinking skills. The game had enough depth to keep their interests."
Ben: "Every game is different in limited formats (e.g. draft). I am not as interested in deck building, but I enjoy Magic in other game types such as commander."
MTG is game enjoyed by millions of people around the world. There are many ways to play the card game between two and eight players. Some players stick to a particular format while others play them all. Each game between players creates different strategic decisions and scenarios. MTG celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. There are not many games in existence that have captured players' attentions for such a long time.
I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful time with friends, family, or just relaxing for a day. Enjoy the holiday weekend and I will have a new post next week.
When my wife and I dine in Uptown Charlotte, we often have Essex Bar & Bistro near the top of our list. Essex is located at 101 S. Tryon Street Ste 13 in the heart of Uptown. Indoor seating options include regular tables, high tops, and a private dining room. Outdoor patio seating is also available for food and drinks. The restaurant offers a large selection of alcoholic beverages at affordable prices. Their food menu includes a mix of many cultural dishes such as falafel, steam buns, and coconut curry seafood dishes. One other part of their food menu that may seem surprising is the sushi roll list. Essex has expanded their sushi roll list over time to include a nice mix of varieties.
My wife and I have been to Essex at least five times and we always enjoy ordering the Warm Brussel Sprout Caesar. The delicious dish contains shaved brussel sprouts mixed with caesar dressing, parmesan, and croutons. Another dish we typically order is the Coconut Curry Mussels. The mussels are served in a coconut curry and sundried tomato sauce along with naan. I enjoy dipping the naan in the remaining broth after eating the mussels. Other popular choices among friends include the Butter Chicken, Lamb Kefta Sliders, and Pork Belly Steam Buns. I have tried a sushi roll and thought it was quite tasty. There are enough options on the menu to satisfied anyone's food craving.
One main reason for dining at Essex is their very affordable alcoholic beverage pricing (in regards to Uptown Charlotte). Essex always has a few wines by the glass for under $10. Wine bottles are also reasonable when looking at the markup. The only negative thing I can say about their wine list is that they tend to run out of the more popular wine options. My wife and I have tried ordering wine off the menu only to learn that they were out of stock. This has happened on three separate occasions. Fortunately, they offer enough affordable options that were are able to choose another wine.
If you are planning to dine at Essex during a show or special event downtown, I highly recommend making a reservation on Open Table. Essex is a popular spot; especially, during weekend events in Uptown. I recommend giving the restaurant a try for your next dinner or happy hour in Uptown.
The Belk Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center is the premiere theater in uptown Charlotte to attend Broadway shows. Located at 130 N. Tryon Street, Belk Theater is surrounded by restaurants, bars, and other forms of entertainment in uptown. The theater hosts multiple Broadway shows, concerts, speakers and other events. While Belk Theater hosted many Broadway shows for 2018 including The Lion King and The Book of Mormon, the most anticipated show to come to Charlotte this year was Hamilton.
Belk theater offers multi-level seating with tiered ticket pricing. There are a few impaired viewing seats along the sides of the theater. I would not recommend purchasing any seats available with impaired viewing. If you purchase seats further in the back, consider bringing glasses or wearing contacts to see everything and everyone on stage. Each level has their own bar area and bathrooms. Bars are open before the show and during intermission. One great tip is to pre-order your intermission snacks and beverages for pickup. This saves precious time during intermission instead of waiting in line for the bathroom and bar. Pre-orders are arranged by last name and require a receipt or photo ID for pickup.
I was fortunate enough to purchase reasonably priced tickets through CarolinaTix for one of the Hamilton shows. Blocks of seats were released daily for purchase while Hamilton was in Charlotte, NC. Hamilton is an amazing show with incredible writing and creativity. It was the best written show I have ever seen. There is a reason why shows sell out even when tickets are twice as much as any other Broadway production. I highly recommend going to see Hamilton if you enjoy Broadway productions and want to see the best show currently on tour.