There’s More to Huntsville than U.S. Space Missions

The high-tech city of Huntsville, which sprawls at the foot of a mountain in North Alabama, is mostly known by its nickname Rocket City. Huntsville has been important in developing space technology since the 1950s, but, as I discovered recently during the TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) convention, there is more to Huntsville than U.S. space missions.Huntsville is home to Alabama’s leading visual arts center, the Huntsville Museum of Art. The museum welcomes traveling exhibits and is the home of a permanent collection that includes more than 3,000 objects that also form the basis for several exhibitions each year. The permanent collection primarily focuses on 19th and 20th century American art with an emphasis on art from the Southeast. American artists with Alabama ties include Richmond Burton, William Christenberry, Gerald Hayes, Nall Hollis, David Parrish, and Stephen Rolfe Powell.I loved discovering the exquisite silver creations designed and fabricated in Italy by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati. The Huntsville Museum of Art can claim to have the world’s largest public collection of these unique works of art. Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie is an absolute must-see when visiting the museum.The present house of Buccellati was founded in 1919 in Milan, Italy, and originated what is known as the Buccellati style, which combines Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials, and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty. This distinctive style won favor with a discriminating international clientele, including the Vatican, as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England, and Egypt.Gianmaria Buccellati carries on the family tradition today as an internationally renowned silversmith. He has dedicated his life to creating extraordinary objects that exemplify fine Italian craftsmanship. His highly realistic silver animals are replicates from earth, sea, and sky. Buccellati invented a new method of working in silver to capture fine detail like feathers, hair, or different types of skin, known as “lavorazione a pelo” or “hair-like workmanship.” One must see the artwork to realize the craftsmanship and level of skill required to produce such masterpieces.

Three galleries in the Davidson Wing provide the museum a showcase for its outstanding holding of American Studio Glass. The Collection encompasses a wide range of different techniques, including blowing, flame working, casting, and carving. Also included are works combining glass with other materials such as wood, rope, paint, gold and silver leaf, and manipulated imagery.The Ponchin Legacy is an exhibit from the museum’s permanent collection that pays homage to the creative work of two generations of acclaimed artists from the south of France—Antoine Ponchin (1872-1933) and his son, Jos. Henri Ponchin (1897-1981).Highlights of the exhibition include a dramatic rendering of Les Baux in the South of France, a view of the entrance to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, scenes of quaint cities and towns in Provence, and paintings inspired by travels to exotic locales in North Africa.

My favorite temporary exhibit, Encounters, was showcasing the surrealistic paintings of celebrated Memphis artist Beth Edwards. Enlarged flowers and animated landscapes from the viewpoint of a still life painter left a lasting impression.Edwards has been particularly fascinated by the way in which certain toys exemplify both the animate and inanimate spheres of existence, and it sure shows in her work.Our Living Past: A Platinum Portrait of Music Maker focuses on the work of photographer Tim Duffy who has immortalized Southern musical heroes and the world in which they live—not only through the photographs he takes, but also through his Music Maker Relief Foundation, which promotes and supports the enduring tradition of Southern roots music.Our Living Past celebrates the distinctive sounds of Southern roots music through 25 iconic images of living blues, gospel, soul, and bluegrass musicians. Duffy’s images of artists like Freeman Vines, Taj Mahal, Ironing Board Sam, Lena Mae Perry, John Dee Holeman, and Huntsville’s own Ardie Dean capture a sense of timelessness that is appropriate to the subjects.
Duffy’s images are supplemented by a hand-selected array of related materials, including musical instruments and ephemera directly tied to the artists on view. These include Captain Luke’s painted guitar case, Ironing Board Sam’s gold keyboard, Dom Flemons’s rhythm bones, and Ardie Dean’s hand-decorated suit.The museum also offers art classes for children and adults along with special programs, lectures, and musical performances. I absolutely loved the children’s section of the museum, which, in addition to all kinds of interactive stations, has an amazing walk-through exhibit teaching the history of art.The Huntsville Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays and on major holidays. Admission: $10 adults, $5 students and children ages 6-11. Seniors 60+, educators, and members of the armed forces pay $8. For more information, check out the website of the museum.

Spring Has Sprung in Birmingham

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” — Sitting Bull

ZachNothing could be more true, and I am embracing the results of their love. I cannot express the degree of gratitude I have to be able to welcome spring and, farther down the road, summer.

First we welcomed Zachary to the family. What more can one ask for? It is amazing how the littlest feet can make the biggest footprints in our hearts.

As I learned to cope with running outdoors during winter here in Birmingham, I realized that the joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. So I have been running all over this city; if I ever get a car, I think I will not get lost, as I know every part of Birmingham by now.  Running has become the road to self-awareness. Being able to rely on myself and see how far I can push myself is pretty amazing.

Mercedes HalfI cannot imagine a time when I won’t be able to be outdoors and run. Encouraged by my colleague Tanya, I did sign up for the Birmingham Mercedes Half. I loved it!  The race was fun and the post-race activities so much better than any RunDisney event.

Winter in Birmingham was very different from anything I ever experienced in 25 years in New York. An inch of snow is likely to shut down the city, and Birmingham’s kids had a lot of “snow days,” even though I never saw more than an inch or two.

IHeidit was wonderful to welcome friends to the city. Heidi Hoover and I had a blast at the Ringo Starr concert. Who would have thought that Ringo and his All Star Band would play in Birmingham? At age 74 he was still going strong and his drumming simply fabulous. With only two Beatles left on this planet, we felt blessed to just be there. Stan and Sandra Phillips-Posner, the authors of “Drive I-95” made Birmingham a stop and so did Dan Benjoseph with his lovely daughter Marija.

In early March, I was fortunate to have a few days at Juniper Springs, Florida. It was so good to be back at this peaceful place. Juniper Springs is as close to nature as I probably ever get, and I cannot convey how healing nature’s powers are. It was “what the doctor prescribed” for my winter blues. And while the bugs ate me alive, I can’t wait to go back. Juniper

Next came the annual research trip to Walt Disney World with two events for Unofficial Guide authors at the Osceola Library in Celebration and miles of walking in the theme parks.

I am grateful for my new job, my home on Highland Avenue, and the kindness extended to me here in Birmingham, but, after nearly a year here in Alabama, I also know that my heart is still set on one day being able to live in Florida. It does not have to be Orlando. I am not a fool. I know that there is a big difference between Disney and a real life, but I also know that every time I land and see a palm tree, I feel at home.

Spring in BirminghamCelebrating Spring

In the meantime, I am celebrating spring here in Birmingham. I am amazed to see the flowers blossom so early. The amount of pollen blanketing everything here is quite something, so thank God I am not allergic.

In another week the popular Pepper Street Farmer’s Market will open again, and I will be there with bright eyes and a bushy tail.

Spring is all about renewal, the mystery and the creative power of nature, and the music of Igor Stravingsky (The Rite of Spring) comes to my mind. Spring is love, spring is hope, spring is happiness.




Snow Days

Snow Days or what you need to know about Birmingham and Snow

Snow DaysMost schools and many businesses in the Birmingham area close as soon as the weather forecast predicts snow. Courthouses, libraries and many shops are closed and buses won’t run either. Since snow or freezing rain is rare all roads are instantly considered dangerous due to the weather and the citizen of Birmingham and the surrounding counties are asked to stay off the roads.

We really do not have snowplows but the garbage collecting trucks are fitted with a plow that helps clearing our streets and highways. Alabama Power is working 24/7 to restore power to homes that go without electricity quite often as soon as a winter storm hits the area.

After living through 25 years of New York City winters it was quite amusing to see the effect so little snow can have on the entire State.  However, the amusement stopped when I suddenly found myself in the dark due to freezing rain on power lines and realizing that if I wished to go to work I would have to walk.  All considered it was only a minor inconvenience that latest two days. It left me wondering what would happen if we really would get a considerable amount of snow. The answer is simple: we all would stay at home and wait till it is over.

“Do you want to build a snowman?”


Living on Highland Avenue South

Living Highland Avenue South

Running “Over The Mountain”

Not in my wildest dreams would I have sought to be living on Highland Avenue South.  Yes, “The South” was always a place I wanted to be, but Highland Avenue South in Birmingham, Alabama? I don’t think so!

Living on Highland Avenue South is wonderful. Picture a green and prosperous neighborhood and you get a good picture. Not quite “over the mountain” but just about that spot geographically. It is as beautiful a neighborhood as you could possibly wish for, and at the same time it is a huge challenge for a “flat land” runner like me.

Living Highland Avenue South

Home on Highland Ave S.

All along Highland Avenue South you can find the most wondrous vistas and experience the most excruciating training runs.

Suddenly names like Niazuma Avenue become the equivalent of Kilimanjaro. No longer do I think that I can run the upcoming Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando in November. No, I think that having signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge in May 2015 was sheer insanity!

Whenever I train for the upcoming races–and train I do–I feel exhausted and totally overwhelmed. There are muscles that hurt I did not know I even had, and, try as I may, there is simply no long distance road I can possible map that does not involve some crazy elevation.

Living Highland Avenue South

The Donnelly House

Having said all this, I would not want to live anywhere else in Birmingham but on Highland Avenue South.  I recognize that I am blessed to have found a neighborhood that is beautiful, welcoming, and historical. I have three parks to pick from, each one of them in literally 5 minutes’ walking distance from my doorstep.

At any given time and everywhere I look, there are historical homes and the buzz of Five Points South and the entertainment district. The homes on Highland Avenue South are amazing, such as the Donnelly House, a prime venue for weddings located a mere 3-minute walk from my home.

Is Living on Highland Avenue South the Dulcinea of my Dreams?

Palms at sunset in Orlando

Palms at sunset in Orlando

So what am I whining about? Nothing much really except for the physical pain of learning to run in a hilly terrain.

But wait–there is a little more. If I am honest, I admit that deep inside there is the dream of a place where palms are swaying in the wind, a place that illuminates nightly to a tune that dreams are made of. A home I never called my own, a home that family and friends feel is far- fetched for someone like me, a home that no matter what everyone else says, I still desire. Is it a realistic dream? Nope. But does it really matter?

For now, I will run like my life depends on it. I’ll be running and living on Highland Avenue South and save the dreams of Windermere for a later time. Windermere, after all, sounds like putting a name on a windmill. I just hope that–unlike in Don Quixote–Dulcinea will indeed be waiting for me.




Sweet Home Alabama

Wedding party at beachTwo month agos, I lost my job of over 20 years. At first there was the initial shock and the fact that I had to tell family and friends. Next I embarked on a four-night cruise to witness the wedding of cousin Sergio. It was wonderful, and being surrounded by loved ones was much needed and welcomed.

Back in New York, however, my type A personality (and what I call my single mother syndrome) kicked in, and all I could think about was finding a new job and securing my future. My son is grown and supports himself, but would I have enough resources to retire in 10 years from now? Would anybody want to hire me at age 56? So what came next felt like being on a roller coaster, except that it wouldn’t end after 60 seconds of thrills and anxiety but would keep running on a loop.Moving

Tempus Fugit and two months later, I can report that I found a new job, packed up my home, and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. I am waiting for the closing date for the sale of my home in New York, and I’ve rented an apartment that I hope to move into soon. I am living with friends and hoping my furniture makes it Down South soon. There is only so much I can control, after all.

I managed to produce five articles whenever my back needed a rest from packing boxes and, yes, I turned in–on time– the 2015 revisions for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. I recommended Summer Fun at Walt Disney World and gave tips for visiting Disney Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends. For those who have a green thumb, I suggested the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot and I kept my book’s Facebook page up and running with daily tips.

NatureAt times I wonder if I could have done anything differently or simply if I did the right thing. I guess only time will tell. What I do know is that I am grateful to have found a new job, grateful for family and friends, and grateful for the kindness of the people Down South.

While I have not explored much of my new hometown, my friends took me on several beautiful outings. Hikes in Red Mountain Park and Oak Mountain State Park provided much-needed relief from anxiety and stress. There is nothing more restoring than the healing powers of Mother Nature. Onward, Sweet Home Alabama!