Yay! I’ve got my laptop back. It’s all fast & speedy and, as 3 1/2 year-old grandson Capt. Adorable says, “I missed it soooo much.” I know I could have written a blog entry on any of the other computers I used while my laptop was in Computer Hospital (thanks, Husband JP, for patiently ignoring the coffee stains & bagel crumbs I left on yours) but it just wasn’t the same. My laptop understands me. We get each other’s quirks. I know the “j” key gets stuck, and my laptop knows I can’t spell “camouflage” — an essential word here in Mississippi — without help. We’re a team.
And it was a team effort (how’s that for a smooth segue?) that pulled off a recent bridal luncheon I went to at The Club, avenerated icon of Birmingham, Ala. This is what happens when you know people who know people — you get invited to fancy places. Luckily, the folks I know who hang out at The Club aren’t really fancy — they were just sort of brought up that way — so everybody’s comfortable and casual and has a great time. I loved the table decor for the bridal luncheon – the little pumpkins were place-cards and had each guest’s name written on them. The centerpieces were perfect, and the touches of fall throughout the room only enhanced the gorgeous view of Birmingham we could admire through the huge windows. The food was delicious and — most importantly — the party was a blast. This luncheon was for the daughter of one of my good friends. They used to live around the corner from us, and I watched her, her sister and my two daughters and their friends grow up into the strong, beautiful, talented, kind, smart and awesomely wonderful young women they are today. Who have really fun bridal luncheons.
If a store can have a personality, then What’s on Second? in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, is geeky with a strong dash of uber-cool chic. It’s an antiques shop and a vintage boutique and a collectors’ paradise all in one … and the place where you’re going to come face to face with your childhood. After “Oh, wow, look at this!” the most commonly heard phrase among browsers is “Oh, wow, I remember having one of those!” What’s on Second? is at 2306 Second Avenue North just a couple doors down from the Urban Standard coffee shop — the two must-go destinations are part of a downtown growth in art, music, food and style. The wooden floors and tin ceilings of the store’s two floors are as much a part of What’s On Second? as the somehow carefully arranged piles and stacks of … well, anything you can think of. There are postcards, books, posters, china, toys, clothes, lamps, household goods, tools, furniture, art work, jewelry, glassware, local history items — and that’s just your first few steps inside the front door. I asked the person behind the cash register once where all this came from — did the owners go to auctions and estate sales all the time? Turns out that most of the inventory comes from people bringing treasures in to sell. Prices seemed a bit high to me, but then I still can’t get used to spending $3.95 for a non-fat dry cappuccino so what do I know? At least it’s free — and fun — to browse and explore and maybe stumble across your own treasure. There’s no Web site, but you can call What’s On Second? at (205) 322-2688 for details.
Charmed, I’m sure! Recently Younger Daughter and I explored the latest addition to retail whimsy in Birmingham, Alabama — a boutique called Charm, on Second Avenue North across from Urban Standard coffee shop. I mean, where else are you going to find a glittery and sequined deer’s head but in downtown Birmingham??? This little gem of a shop specializes in vintage and locally handmade jewelry, scarves and handbags — but with attitude. It’s like rummaging through your crazy aunt’s closet while she’s out dancing on tables because the fleet has come in. Or something. Owner Chatham Hellmers had the late and great Jinx boutique in Birmingham’s Five Points that was always a must-stop destination for quirky jewelry and retro-hip style. Charm is a grownup upscale version perfect for browsing, especially if you’re looking for gifts. I was immediately delighted and impressed with Hellmers’ taste when I spied an “old” jewelry box made in the shape of a rolltop office desk — the same jewelry box I had growing up. The drawers and compartments are lined with a red velvet-type fabric, and I kept them lovingly stocked with silver turquoise rings and copper bracelets to show I was In Tune with Nature and One with the Universe and wide plastic cuffs to show I read Vogue. Hey — don’t judge! It was the 1970s, remember, and I was young(er). Anyway, find out more about Charm at http://www.charmonsecond.com/
This past week I found these two examples of recycling — a past-its-prime Wise Man from a plastic outdoor Nativity set someone brought to the recycling center and these intriguing ceiling lamps that are part of the fun and funky decor at Urban Standard, one of my favorite coffee shops in Birmingham, Alabama. I’m not sure what the lamps were originally — some sort of barrel or crate for some kind of food? — but I am sure that I’d take one home in a minute. But the real mystery, of course, is about the lone Wise Man: I mean, what happened to the other ones? Are there two Wise Men sitting in somebody’s yard somewhere, trying to do the job of three? And why was this one deemed ready for recycling? His beard was a little spotty, but that was all my husband and I could find that might be wrong with him. Inquiring minds … And, no, we didn’t bring him home. We’ve rescued abandoned kitties, dogs, chairs and filing cabinets, but I draw the line at Wise Men.
Anybody who’s worried about today’s young people shouldn’t — at least based on their decorating skills. Isn’t this apartment absolutely adorable? I’d move in in a minute! It belongs to Rachel, a 25-year-old who’s one of Younger Daughter’s friends in Birmingham, Alabama. Rachel is a recent college graduate and recently started working — and although interior decorating is not her field, I think it should be. I loved the way Rachel used inexpensive touches — she shops in consignment and discount stores — to express her style and create a calm and peaceful environment combined with a sense of whimsy. And she’s got such inspiring ideas. For instance, she paints small wooden window shutters, hangs them vertically on the wall and puts photos in the individual slats — brilliant! She also found a practice climbing wall with various size handholds and set it up above a doorway for stress-releasing fun. And I love the way she uses the simple basic elements of candles and coffee beans for earthy and fragrant tablescapes. And she has such a good eye — her comfy thrift-store sofa and weathered chest of drawers with intriguing mismatched drawer pulls look as if they came from a top designer boutique. Rachel’s efforts have convinced me that when it comes to interior decor, money and time constraints are no excuse. Lesson learned. Thank you, Rachel!
Anytime I can rummage through a grocery store where the primary language is anything but English — not so common here in Alabama, let me tell you — I take it. And one of my favorites is Nabeel’s Cafe and Market, in Homewood, Alabama (right next to downtown Birmingham). I don’t even know what most of this is, but it’s fascinating to wander around the aisles and try to figure it out. Nabeel’s Cafe is a favorite place to eat, too — I’m especially in love with the hummus (accompanied by fried pita chips, of course), bruschetta and Greek-fried potatoes. And if you’ve got restless young ‘uns with you who are less not-so-much interested in sitting quietly and discussing the latest judging mistakes on So You Think You Can Dance and debating the merits of Survivor’s Evil Russell, there’s a nearby playground for quick energy releases. Plus, you can take home a bag of fried pita chips. What’s not to like? Check out Nabeel’s at http://www.nabeels.com.
I think I was the only person around who’d never eaten at a P.F. Chang’s — but happily Younger Daughter took care of that when she chose the popular Chinese restaurant for her birthday lunch in Birmingham, Alabama. We by-passed the Sunday-lunch crowd by sitting at the bar, where we got great service and menu recommendations — such as The Best Dessert Ever: Banana Spring Rolls with coconut ice cream. Oh my goodness. I’m telling you, it tastes as good as it looks. And I also was impressed with the women’s restroom — no emperor statues or 11-feet-tall horses here, only sleek and modern Asian chic (or what I assume to be sleek and modern Asian chic, although since my decorating expertise comes mainly from Pier One, I may not be the best person to say.)
Are there any words more dear to a woman’s heart than “shoe sale?” There’s just something about a sea of markdowns that we cannot resist. This past weekend some friends and I were in Birmingham, Alabama, for the funeral of another friend’s mother. After the service, we needed some therapeutic girl-time, and there’s no better place than a sale at Southern department-store icon Belk. It’s definitely the place to be, female-wise. My friends were on the hunt for specific shoes for upcoming weddings and christenings and I’m always open to the siren song of possibility — “I don’t really need these 4-inch purple snakeskin platform sandals or these bright turquoise-and-yellow pointy-toe flats but you never know when they might come in handy.” That is, I was open to possibilities of expanding my own personal shoe options until somehow, from many miles away, my husband felt the cosmic vibration of me being in the middle of a shoe sale and called to forestall any impulsively major purchase. How does he do that???
If I could conjure up my dream store, it would look a lot like Gypsy Market in Birmingham, Alabama. This combination upscale-convenience and funky-antique store is at the corner of Second Avenue North and 23rd Street, across from Urban Standard coffee shop and What’s On Second eclectic vintage store and smack dab in the midst of downtown loft living. My younger daughter and I peeked in the store early one morning after lattes and cappuccinos at Urban Standard and promised ourselves a return visit. Owner Kent Griggs, who had a downtown diner in Birmingham a few years ago, opened Gypsy Market to be a one-stop shop for loft dwellers who need a last-minute loaf of fresh homemade bread or bottle of wine — or something creative and whimsical to decorate the apartment with. There’s also a cooler of ice cream and a pot of Birmingham’s own Royal Cup coffee. This is exactly what I think of when I imagine living in a downtown loft — hanging out in a very cool space and drinking espresso all day. And eating ice cream and homemade bread, of course. Read more about Gypsy Market at http://www.al.com/business/birminghamnews and Royal Cup at http://www.royalcupcoffee.com. And check out Urban Standard, one of my favorite coffee shops, at http://www.urbanstandard.net/.
P.S. Make sure to click on the pics inside the store to see them larger and get all the details in the backgrounds — there’s some amazing stuff here!
One of my favorite restaurant restrooms in Birmingham, Alabama is in one of my favorite restaurants — the Greek-inspired Fish Market on 22nd Street South. I’ve never been to Greece but I have both been to The Fish Market and seen “Mama Mia” multiple times so I imagine Greece to be full of beautiful people singing ABBA songs and eating fresh and wonderfully cooked seafood. And having gorgeous bathrooms like this one with copper sinks, blue mosaic-tiled walls and stone and pottery accents. It’s so calm and serene … and Greek. The Fish Market is usually crowded and always noisy and the line to order moves fast — a basic knowledge of the extensive menu and the day’s specials is essential. There’s no table service, so you have to fight your way to the bar for another beer or more Apalachicola oysters but if you want your seafood lovingly and authentically cooked, it’s worth it. And you can always head to the ladies’ room if you need some peace and quiet. Check out The Fish Market Web site at http://www.birminghammenus.com/thefishmarket/