Category Archives: In Love With

In Love With: A Warm, Dry Place

The only good thing you can say about all the rain we’ve been having is that at least it’s not snow. (We wouldn’t thaw out ’til June!) It has not been pleasant waking up every morning to another gloomy, moist day. Thanks to the rain invading every square inch of Birmingham, my husband and I have had a constant trail of teeny ants in the house, mailbox and both our cars searching for someplace to dry off. We’ve even been visited TWICE now by a 6 inch lizard who must be sneaking in under the doorframe looking for a warm hideyhole.

I feel for these little critters, even as I dislike their presence. I’m beginning to need a place to dry off too, at least mentally. I need a place to hide out on these gloomy weekend days, where I can feel protected against the elements. Quiet is a bonus, and while being free isn’t a prerequisite, it certainly is nice. I think I’ve finally found a place that fits all my requirements: the reading room at the Emmet O’Neal Public Library in Mountain Brook.

For no cost at all, I can snuggle into a chair with any book or magazine that takes my fancy, and bask in the light coming in from the huge, vaguely Art Deco windows. (Naturally, it’s way nicer when that’s afternoon sunlight streaming in instead of lead-colored clouds, but these days I’ll take what I can get.)

The key, I’ve found, is to pick sunny reading material. So far, I’ve enjoyed a P.G. Wodehouse comedy, a gorgeously photographed book on Middle Eastern cooking, and a handful of guidebooks to Italy. Even if it doesn’t stop the rain, at least it banishes it to a distant memory for a while, and reminds me there are sunnier days ahead.

Photo: Emmet O’Neal Library. Courtesy of their website.

In Love With: A Festival of Lights

It’s beginning to look a lot like … well, the early weeks of December, where the hard core Christmas enthusiasts already have their halls decked and the rest of us are coming out of our Turkey Day comas long enough to realize we better get in gear. It’s not much longer now until my favorite holiday tradition can be celebrated. It is non-denominational and inexpensive, and can be either raucous or genteel-your choice. It’s the (say it with me now) “Super-Fabulous Christmas Light Extravaganza Spectacular,” and it’s wonderful.

Here’s how to mark the holiday. Pick an evening, your favorite Christmas CD (I recommend “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio) and whatever lucky nearest and dearest you like. Stop at a coffee shop long enough to gear everyone up with enough yuletide treats and caffeine to last them the evening. Then begin driving through neighborhoods looking at light displays until you’ve crowned:

The Most Beautiful Display
The Kilowatt Cup (The one that makes you say “Do the Griswolds live here?”)
Best Technique (a.k.a. the “How Did They Do That?” award)
Most Avant-Garde (or Clueless) Award.
Most Religious
Most Sacrilegious
Most Old-Fashioned
The “We’ve been planning this since March” Award
and the Most Spirited Neighborhood Award

In Love With: Bringing Christmas to Birmingham

So I know the economy’s tight when the hardware store in Mountain Brook Plaza is out of canning equipment. The jars and cookers that used to languish under an inch of well-meaning dust are gone. It’s proof that everyone is hunkering down into a bad patch. Which totally stinks when Christmas is just around the corner.

At a time like this, big box stores with their super sales, coupons, and aggressive ad campaigns seem like a boon for stretching Christmas dollars. However, Macy’s and Walmart don’t need your cash as much as many of our homegrown merchants do. This year, more than ever, remember the independent shops that give our city its amazing character. Affordable treats can be found almost everywhere, and each choice makes our Birmingham economy stronger – and keeps our friends and neighbors in business. You won’t face the same ugly mall traffic as at our venerable shopping centers. And hey, now that gas is back to 1993 levels, you have no excuse not to bypass the one-stop stores…

Here’s a rundown of some of the places I’ll be hitting as I shop:

What’s on 2nd and Urban Standard‘s boutique (downtown Birmingham)

Red Rain, At Home, Homewood Toy and Hobby and Collage in Homewood

Atmosphere and Interiors Market in Pepper Place

Jonathan Benton Booksellers (Mountain Brook Village) and The Alabama Booksmith (Homewood)

• The gift shops at the Botanical Gardens and Vulcan Park & Museum

Hanna Antiques close to Lakeview

Village Wine Market in English Village

Tria Market and V. Richards

Happy Holidays, everyone. Be safe and shop smart!

In Love with: School Days and Dog Days

Growing up in Virginia, we had a law that school couldn’t start until the week after Labor Day. Apparently, the thinking went that high schoolers were a vital source of labor for the end-of-summer tourist boom at our historic sites and amusement parks, and thus should not be herded into school any earlier than need be. Why that applied to grade schoolers, I don’t know, but I blissfully reaped the benefits all 12 years that I could. So it’s mystifying to me that students here are already in their fourth week of school, and my teacher husband is gearing up to give his first test. What kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in where “Winter Hours” at the library start on August 17?

Because my internal schedule is so mixed up, I’ve had two warring desires in my brain. The first is to hurry and do all the summer stuff I missed out on this year. (Lounge at the pool! Drink mojitos on the patio! Visit friends at the lake!) The other is to buckle down and do something good for my brain, dammit, because it’s time to start thinking seriously again.

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In Love With: The Perfect Day

candela photoAndré spilled the beans a few weeks ago about the reason for my protracted absence-wedding planning. I had assumed “a simple, no frills wedding” couldn’t possibly take more than a few weeks to put together. Life, and the Birmingham wedding industry, however had other agendas. Despite my best efforts not to let the process turn me into a harpy, there were a few months in there where silly questions like buttercreme vs. white frosting were far more present in my daily thought process than they really needed to be.

That’s a nice way of saying I bordered on “basket-case” for a few months. Eventually, I woke up to one truth that I clung to like a life vest in churning waters. If you don’t want to go nuts while planning a wedding, hire vendors you trust and work well with … and then get the heck out of the way.

So I want to give public props to the three vendors who made our Big Day come together. It was everything I could have hoped for, and even more important, trusting their experience and talent made it easy on me. In each case, a few meetings or phone calls was all it took to develop a working concept. Then I let them loose to do what they do best, tried not to hover, and ended up being as delightfully surprised on our wedding day as any of our guests with how everything had been realized.

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In Love With: Night Life

Last weekend was proof that there’s plenty to do on a weekend night in Birmingham. But music and art and bars and coffeehouses are just the beginning. A while back, I heard about two unique after-dark activities that I have put on my must-do list:

Each year, the Cahaba River Society hosts moonlight canoe trips on the river. Imagine that—the moon shining down through the trees, dancing upon the water while crickets chirp and lightning bugs add mood lighting. Ahhh. Of course, the actual experience is likely to be muddy and shared with a multitude of mosquitoes, but it’s sure to give you a new vantage point on our bio-diverse river. You don’t even have to leave the city—the launch site is just off Highway 280 near Target. For dates (two more this summer), prices, and other details, see the Cahaba River Society’s canoe outings schedule.

If you’d rather not get your feet wet, try Ruffner Mountain Nature Center’s Full Moon Wine and Cheese Hike. You’ll climb to the heights of the nature preserve’s Hawk’s View Overlook, where you can enjoy wine and cheese as you watch the sun set, the moon glow, and the skyline sparkle to life. I missed this summer’s outing, so I’m planning to sign up for the fall hike in October. For full information on this event—and several other guided hikes (in the daytime) that sound fascinating—click the “Saturdays on the Mountain” link on Ruffner’s website. Again, you don’t have to leave the city limits for this one-of-a-kind nocturnal event, since the nature center is located just off I-59 in eastern Birmingham.

Do you know of any other unusual tours, events, or sights in the night?

In Love With: Deco Delights

Electra - Bob Farley/f8photoIn the 1920s and ‘30s, if you wanted your building to have a cool, modern look, you built it in the Art Deco style—all sleek lines, bold forms, and geometric shapes, reflecting the rise of technology. Hot spots for this style included New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, but Birmingham wasn’t left behind.

In fact, one of our Art Deco landmarks was something of a trendsetter. The old Alabama Power Building was praised by the London Daily Express as one of the most beautiful public utility buildings in the world—exciting, huh? But the more interesting fact is that the building was completed in 1925, the year often marked as the beginning of the Art Deco era (though the style had developed in Europe before then). Birmingham’s architects were ahead of the curve.

The Alabama Power Building is still very impressive today, even though its 18th Street location is surrounded by more modern forms of architecture. The façade is full of different shapes and colors, and you can’t help but move your eyes up the front of the building, following the vertical lines right to the rooftop, where you’ll find the golden statue of Electra brandishing her lightning bolts. Imagine how stunning this building looked to Birminghamians when it was new—especially since its neighborhood at the time was mostly residential!
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In Love With: Art in Plain Sight

Birmingham is not often considered a hot spot for public art, but perhaps we need to take a closer look. Throughout the city, you can find art out in the open—maybe even along the streets you travel every day—representing a kaleidoscope of styles. Here are a few of my favorites, along with the locations so that you can spot them the next time you drive by.

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In Love With: Being Cool

Water Jet. Clearly Ambliguous/FlickrWelcome to summer in Alabama. That means a heaping helping of heat, topped with a thick slab of humidity. If you’re lucky, you’ll feel a breeze. If you’re really lucky, that breeze will not be oven temperature.

When your air conditioner won’t crank up any higher—and when the neighbors finally turn off the sprinkler you’ve been running through—it’s time to find some cool escapes in the city. Follow the jump to check out a few favorites:

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In Love With: Rainy Day Diversions

We’ve needed all the rain that has fallen lately, but honestly, couldn’t it pick some other time than the weekends? If storm clouds cramp your springtime style, consider it an opportunity to explore some of Birmingham’s interior attractions. Like the treasure trove that is Jim Reed Books. Or one of our fine museums—I bet there’s at least one you haven’t visited yet. And then there’s What’s On Second.

A look inside of What's on Second? acnatta/Flickr

If you haven’t yet discovered this establishment at 2306 2nd Avenue North, you’re in for a treat. It’s an antique shop, but probably not the kind you’re used to.

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