HousingFest is THIS WEEKEND!

HousingFest is happening on May 28th with the goal of bringing people together to end homelessness through the power of music. Each ticket costs $39 and is the same cost as keeping a person in permanent, supportive housing for one day.

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Charlotte has a goal of ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2016 and HousingFest gives you a chance to help the city reach that goal – while listening to some pretty fantastic music – including local band, Matrimony.  The rest of the lineup includes: Josh Ritter, Lindi Ortega, Nikki Hill Band, Jim Lauderdale and Justin Fedor.

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HousingFest began in 2014 and has only continued to grow raising funds for our community’s most vulnerable homeless neighbors. This year’s show is expected to be a sell out with 2,000 people in attendance at the Fillmore. Urban Ministry Center is one of my favorite non-profits in Charlotte (see: 5 things I Learned While Volunteering at Urban Ministry Center), and they are the geniuses behind HousingFest – with the help of a group of sponsors.

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It’s not too late to get your ticket to listen to good music and do a good thing for the community at the same time.

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Vinyl All Day Long

Lunchbox Records moved into their new space on Central Avenue and it is fantastic.

IMG_2710Much larger than the old spot which means more room for records. There’s also more room for DJs or bands to perform in the new location.

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Out of all the Charlotte record stores, Lunchbox is my favorite. They have the best finds and the best prices.

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You could literally spend hours in Lunchbox Records perusing through all of the titles and collections they have. I love that everything is organized in a logical way (new, genre and alphabetical order, used, genre and alphabetical order). It makes it that much easier if you have something specific you are searching for in the store.

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I recommend going during the week, as the parking lot gets quite packed on the weekends. However, since the space is larger, once you’re inside, you won’t have to worry about squeezing by other patrons as you browse.

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And just in case you’re wondering, anyone can use the bathroom there. High five to you, Lunchbox Records.

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#HashtagLunchbagCLT

Have you heard of HashtagLunchbag? It’s a movement that’s not unique to Charlotte, but fortunately has been adopted here. A group of volunteers meets at Triple C brewery each month and swiftly puts together hundreds of lunch bags that contain a sandwich, a cookie, a piece of fruit, a granola bar and a bottle of water… and an inspirational note.

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I went for the first time in March and was amazed at how quickly this group worked to fill the bags and handwrite notes of hope and love for Charlotte’s homeless neighbors.

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After the lunches are all packed, the volunteers box them up and head into the streets of Charlotte to deliver them to those in need.

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As a first timer, I was grateful to have Danielle and Jacinda swoop in and give us the scoop on how the morning would go. All of the volunteers were pleasant and helpful as well and truly worked together as a team.

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Once we signed in and made our donation (volunteers are asked to bring $10 to help with food costs), we were added to one of the sandwich making tables. After all of the sandwiches were made, I moved over to the note making station and eventually moved into the box-packing group.

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There are several prime locations to hand out these lunches which are identified before leaving the brewery. Everyone goes in groups and for safety reasons, it is recommended to have a male in each group. That being said, I never felt unsafe while delivering the bags.

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At the men’s shelter, we started approaching the neighbors and handing out bags but were quickly told that we couldn’t do that. We either had to donate the bags to the facility or stand outside of the gates to distribute. One gentleman kept following us and asking for a bag (I wanted to give him the whole box) but we had already been told to move off the premises. Once we made it outside the gate, we were able to distribute the bags freely. We also stopped at Urban Ministry Center and were able to donate a ton of bags to them and also hand out many more to the neighbors who were already lined up waiting to get in.

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It took our group 35 minutes to make 275 lunch bags and pack them all up to be distributed. We started at 8 A.M and were home by 10 A.M. My heart was so full after those two hours. There are many volunteer roles where you’re working in the background and know you’re doing good but with #HashtagLunchbagCLT, you are on the front lines. You’re not only doing the pre-work but you’re actually engaging with those in Charlotte who need a hand up.

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Starting in April, there will be two opportunities to volunteer. #HashtagLunchbagCLT will meet on April 2nd and April 16th at 8 A.M. at Triple C. The goal would be to have sessions weekly and keep Charlotte from going hungry. Let’s make it happen. Go, volunteer, do something good for your community. Email lunchbagclt (at) gmail (dot) com to let Danielle know you’re coming. And I’ll see you there!

*If you’re not in Charlotte, check out the website to find opportunities in your area!

CO Pho

Okay, I know pho is actually pronounced “fuh” but it’s fun to pretend it rhymes with the name of this new, delicious restaurant in Park Road shopping center.

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The first time I tried to go to CO was at 6 PM on a Friday night. The wait was an hour and ten minutes. The hangry person in me was bound to come out if I waited that long to eat so I had to pass. But my craving was still there so we returned for lunch the next day and were promptly seated.

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I get hangry a lot so I immediately ordered an appetizer: the fresh summer rolls with shrimp and pork. I’ve never had them with pork so this was an exciting twist. They were very tasty, especially with the burst of mint in every other bite.

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I ordered the Beef Pho and my date selected the Vietnamese Ramen. I added jalapenos to my pho because the menu did not state that they were included, but boy did they load me up with jalapenos! I also asked for extra sriracha as they bring a bowl that is half sriracha and half hoisin sauce and I like my food kind of spicy.

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We were seated quickly, our appetizer and entrees came out timely and overall the service was great. I sat for a few minutes with an empty water glass after possibly adding too much sriracha to my broth but it wasn’t an unbearable amount of time.

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I loved the modern décor inside of the restaurant and they also have a fun outdoor area (which I won’t be using until it’s at least 40 degrees warmer than today!). I’ve long been a fan of one of the most authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Charlotte (Viet Thai Noodle House) but will certainly be back at CO. CO puts a modern twist on the best Asian dishes – and also has fun cocktails. If you haven’t checked it out, or been over to Park Road Shopping Center lately, you should swing by. You won’t be disappointed, pho sure. (See what I did there?)

Run Thunder Road!

While on any given weekend, you can find a handful of 5ks, 10ks and half-marathon races, Thunder Road is Charlotte’s only full-marathon. This year’s race is scheduled for November 14. Last year’s race drew 960 runners for the marathon, 99 more than 2013’s race. Masashi Shirotake won for the males and overall with a time of 2:31:07. Meghan Hovis was the female winner with a time of 2:56:37.  In addition to the full-marathon, a half-marathon and 5k are also offered. The full and half marathon races both start promptly at 7:30 AM.

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The 26.2 mile race winds through uptown, Dilworth, Plaza Midwood and Noda, giving you the most scenic (and sweaty) tour of Charlotte. The course has live bands playing throughout to keep you moving, and not to mention, plenty of friends and family cheering runners along.

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Not a runner? There’s a course cheer contest which places cheer groups along the course at various mile markers to cheer along the runners. The winning groups will have money donated in their honor to a charity of their choice! The music and cheering continues once you cross the finish line with more music and expo booths to explore as you recover.

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If you’re considering running the full or the half marathon, you should be aware of the time limits. The full has a time limit of 6 hours and the half 3 hours. Not to worry, Run for Your Life offers training sessions to get you up to speed no matter what distance you’re aiming to run. Training sessions are offered through Run For Your Life locations in Piper Glen, Midtown and University. Now that Fall is just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get started with a running group.

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If you want to get your kids involved in running and help fight childhood obesity, check out the Chick-Fil-A Thunder Kids Marathon Program. Kids will run 26.2 miles over a 5-9 week period and get a finisher’s medal at the Thunder Road Finish Line! Hurry, registration closed October 9 for the kids program.

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As of 9/1, the price for the full marathon is $115. You can register up until the expo and packet pick up, the day before the race (but the price is $135 that day!), but it’s best to get your entry in early to secure a spot and have time to mentally prepare. While the weather can be tricky to predict in November, it’s most likely to be mild in the morning, giving you cool air for the start of the race. The mean temperature for race day is 46 degrees Fahrenheit. The race will go on rain or shine.

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Stay up to date with Thunder Road on Facebook and Twitter for details on bands, weather, and inspirational stories leading up to the big day!

SweetCakes Cupcakes

If you’re headed North of Charlotte, or have a sugar craving, you should plan to visit Cornelius. I stopped in SweetCakes to get a cupcake for my niece’s first birthday and walked out with a whole box full, half large and half mini cupcakes. I felt I would have been doing myself a disservice to not try more than just the one that I had initially planned to purchase. I justified ordering so many because some of them were mini cupcakes and they don’t have all the calories that the full size ones do.

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I stand by my decision because these were some of the best cupcakes I’ve had in my entire life. My favorite, and the best seller per the owner’s admission, was the Salted Caramel cupcake. Mocha, hummingbird cake and red velvet all tied for second. My husband said the Peanut Butter Truffle was his favorite. And my niece, who doesn’t talk yet, demonstrated that she enjoyed the vanilla cupcake with sprinkles by devouring the whole full-size cupcake.

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Brenda Lord and her daughter, Heather Allen co-own and operate SweetCakes. They started in 2008, baking in their home and have grown into their current location and also have a cupcake truck known as “Dottie.” Dottie visits various events, the Huntersville Business Park and food truck rallies in the area including Cabarrus and Southend. They even do weddings!

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Everything is homemade in the shop daily, from the cake to the icing to the candy on top of the cupcakes. Unique flavor options such as maple bacon, blackberry wine, orange creamsicle and strawberry lemonade will have you drooling. Large cupcakes are $3.25 and the mini cupcakes are $1.25.

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SweetCakes Bakery is located in The Shops at The Fresh Market at 20601 Torrence Chapel Rd, Suite 106, Cornelius, NC, and can most easily be accessed off exit 28 from I77.

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I highly recommend checking out this sweet spot and satisfying any and all cravings you have with their sweet, salty, and rich flavors.

Tacos and Tequila

Bakersfield on East is one of Charlotte’s newest (and best) spots for delicious tacos. This industrial spot is surprisingly large inside, with a wrap around bar for all of your whiskey and tequila needs. Old garage doors open onto East Blvd. letting in air and light on warm summer days. It’s as amazing as it sounds.

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The menu is a la carte and the tacos, while filling, are small. The average person probably needs at least 3 to consider it a meal. Chips and salsa are considered an appetizer and not free. I actually thought this was a good thing. Sometimes you eat so many chips before your meal comes out that you’re stuffed. If you aren’t just handed chips and salsa then you can’t do that. Personally, I didn’t splurge on the appetizer and saved all the room in my belly for tacos.

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The tacos come out ‘family style’ on a plate, making for a pretty display and the corn tortillas are made in house. Adding a salad or side of beans to the taco order will help with making it a complete meal.

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Habenero hot sauce and pickled jalapenos are extra, but worth it. The jalapenos weren’t super hot (for me), but the hot sauce was the real deal. The Cochinita Pibil had the habenero sauce on it and was DEFINITELY spicy. The waitress was nice enough to tell me how hot it was and confirm it was what I wanted to order before placing the order.

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The draft beer selection is slim, but there are plenty of bottle options. Or you can just go for the margaritas which will compliment your tacos perfectly.

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Parking can be tough on East Blvd, but Bakersfield offers free valet just across the street. Definitely recommend checking out this hot spot with friends and enjoying a wonderful Tex-Mex meal in Dilworth. Lots of good seating for parties and events, or just a date night. Order one of each taco, your palate will be delighted.