Introducing…Picture Birmingham.

If I’ve seemed a bit scarce, quieter than usual, or really slow on email responses the past couple of months, it’s because I’ve been completely consumed with designing a new project and website.

So here it is: Picture Birmingham.

Picture Birmingham

First, a bit of back story.

Last summer, I felt compelled to get involved with a local ministry, The WellHouse. God kept bringing them to my mind and putting articles in front of me about the stunning things they were doing. I resisted at first, because I don’t handle tragedy well – and their ministry is the rescue of women, men, and children from sex slavery. They were seeing and dealing with tragedy every day – tragedy that most of us don’t think happens in the United States. But it does. And one of the interstates running through Birmingham is the number one avenue for sex trafficking in the nation.

I emailed them and offered to serve. I met with Alexa, their Director of Development and listened, mouth agape, at her tales of the horrific things happening in my city, near my house, and around the nation. How they had recently saved a girl who had been trafficked for 20 years from one of the most affluent suburbs of Birmingham. How they had flown as far as Washington State to rescue someone – because they were one of the only groups who would.

She explained to me the intricacies of trafficking – how our laws are set up to punish the prostitutes, and that’s how pimps enslave these girls – by manipulating them with fear of police and promises of protection. The Wellhouse is also involved in training police and talking to legislators, but it’s an uphill battle.

I knew I must help, but I didn’t know how. It was unclear and fuzzy, and neither she or I could quite nail down a plan at the time. Then I got sick. With months of doctor’s visits and uncertainties, I knew the timing wasn’t right, and I put The WellHouse in the back of my mind – still thinking about them, still feeling compelled, but not knowing what I could do to help.

That was also when I started taking photos of Birmingham. Mostly sunsets, but with others mixed in.

130831 A Hole in the Sky

Chris figured it out quicker than I did that these photographical journeys – the thrill of chasing the sunset, trying to catch it at just the right angle, not missing the perfect moment – that this was therapy for me. It made me forget my fears about what was wrong with me, gave me an adrenaline rush, and put a smile on my face.

Birmingham Alabama Skyline Photography

So Chris began to find a way to take me on a sunset journey nearly every night. And Birmingham isn’t an easy place to find a good view of the skies – we have a LOT of hills and trees.

130822 IMG_6659

It became ridiculous – many of my friends were making fun of me for my sunset obsession, but I couldn’t quit. The skies – and my city – had fully captured my heart.

140222 Late on a Saturday Evening

But I have never considered myself a photographer. I liked how my photos looked on my tiny iPhone screen and they made me happy, but I never thought they were good enough to print.

140115 IMG_7557

Until I did – on a whim.

Photo Wall

They surprised me by looking quite lovely. They brought the joy of the sunset chasing right into my living room, every moment of every day.

140209 Prelude To An (Ice)Storm

Then other people started to ask if they could buy prints, and God started to put the pieces together for me. I could use this new passion He’d given me to benefit The WellHouse. It offered me a platform to help them build awareness on social media, as well as a way for me to support them financially. I could sell prints of the best of my photos, and give all the profits to their ministry. Perhaps this was why God made me obsessed with sunsets. Perhaps, just maybe, this was even why I got sick.

140130 Sunrise over a Frozen Shore Adjusted

Working on this new site has actually helped in making me feel better, giving me something to focus on and work toward, with the excitement of knowing that God has put this mission on my heart.

(Heart medicine has also been quite helpful. But a new project never hurts.)

The new site has a shop, where I am selling prints (on gorgeous 100% cotton art archival paper), canvases (gallery wrapped), and my favorite product, luxuriously printed notecards. All of the products are locally printed and distributed by the amazing team at Alabama Graphics, and 100% of the profits will go to The WellHouse.

Buying Art of Birmingham Alabama

The site also has a PhotoBlog, where I have archived my near-daily photo journey since June, and will continue to add photos as I take them.

The photos will not all be from Birmingham. I have documented the Smoky Mountains, Lake Eufaula, Nashville, North Alabama, Georgia, Orlando, and the Alabama Gulf in the PhotoBlog, and will continue to photograph any areas to which we may travel (Asheville, North Carolina is next.) I will add new photos for sale occasionally, and not all of those will be from Birmingham, either. So even if you’re not local, perhaps the site may hold some interest to you – or at least increase your appreciation for my city and my south.

I’ll be talking occasionally about The WellHouse as time goes on, sharing their projects and ministry. And once this new site is running smoothly, I promise to be back to my normal 100% presence here as well.

So thank you for sticking with me during this busy time, and please check out the amazing things The WellHouse is doing – you can follow them on their website, Facebook, and on Twitter.

And of course, you can visit Picture Birmingham by clicking here.

Special thanks to my husband Chris, who started the whole obsession, came up with the Picture Birmingham name, and made it possible for me to spend dozens of hours in the past few months on this project. Also thanks to Wade Kwon, who designed the beautiful logo and walked with me through many business and media decisions; to James Spann, for encouraging me to take on this journey; to my fantastic tech guy, Chris Rasco, who put up with my request of working together to design the site; to Kelli at Alabama Graphics for tirelessly answering hundreds of questions and printing dozens of proofs until I approved every inch; to Carla Jean Whitley and Jamie Golden for helping me make things pretty; to Ebony Hall, for understanding the vision of my project and trusting me with two interviews before I’d even launched (I’ll be on ABC 33/40 today in the 4pm hour and Wednesday in the 9am hour); and to my parents and babysitters who helped tremendously with my kids throughout this process. I’d have never finished it on my own, and I am so grateful for your investments into this project.

A Random Reason to Celebrate.

The Hundredth Day of School is entirely a millennial fabrication as far as I can tell, but a much needed one. Because after the climax of the Christmas Season (and, for us, two birthdays), the rest of the winter feels like drudgery – both in school and in weather.

So although I am not, on most days, one of those homeschool Moms who tries to make everything spectacular and jubilescent (I know that’s not a word but it should be), I do attempt to be that Mom on the Hundredth Day of School.

Because we all need it.

This year, we started our morning out with a “100” breakfast.

Hundredth Day of School Breakfast and other 100th Day of School Activities

The kids were so shocked that I was actually cooking something for breakfast that they both forgot me telling them the day before what we’d be celebrating.

Ali was rather grumpy about the whole thing, and extra annoyed that I kept trying to get her to figure out why it was a special day by looking at her breakfast.

Hundredth Day of School Breakfast

(I swear. My juice was just sparkling grape juice. Somebody had to drink it since the kids wouldn’t – Noah said it tasted like soap and Ali said it was awful spicy.)

The longer I tried to make her figure it out, the grumpier she got.

“But what does your sausage LOOK LIKE? A …. one, right?”

“NO. It looks like a sausage.”

Hundredth Day of School Breakfast

“Okay. Well, what about your pancakes? What do they look like? Don’t they look like zeroes?”

“They look like circles and pancakes. Nothing else. NOTHING ELSE!!”

Noah was too busy enjoying his fancy glass of apple juice to care what day it was.

Hundredth Day of School Breakfast

Hundredth Day of School Breakfast

Hundredth Day of School Breakfast

Finally I spelled it out for her, and she was relieved to be sprung from a wretched existence of guessing.

Hundredth Day of School Breakfast

Next came Hundredth Day of School Presents.

Hundredth Day of School Presents

Before you say to yourself “now isn’t she just ridiculous!”, I promise I’m not. We had first day of school presents whose chief goal was to keep Noah semi-satisfied during school hours, and I had random gifts hanging around in my closet for refreshes on this purpose (it’s cheaper than Mother’s Day Out), so I just pulled some stuff out and stuck it in a bag.

I didn’t even put tissue paper in those bags.

Ali got a Search and Find book and some Gel Markers,

Hundredth Day of School Presents

And Noah got a holiday-appropriate “Learn to Count” Lego train.

Hundredth Day of School Presents

And then we had to actually start school.

I printed out the exact same writing prompt sheet that I gave Ali last year – half because I was lazy, and half because I wanted to see what changed from Kindergarten to First Grade.

Hundredth Day of School Writing Prompts And Other Activities

I was more surprised by what didn’t change.

Hundredth Day of School Writing Prompts And Other Activitiesstuf anamls / stufft anaml’s
Is (eyes) / satan’s
ckrafts / dot’s
jele bens / switish fish (Swedish Fish are a favorite candy right now)
petsas (Pizzas) / Jient Fish
Dogs / Dog’s
Si ol my frins (see all my friends) / go to heven
thro them / buy a lot
Yes, we need to work on appropriate apostophication before she’s old enough to have Facebook and thank all her friend’s for they’re birthday wishes.

While she worked on that, I used her brand new Gel Markers (okay they were for me not her) to make her a Factor sheet, also copying what I did last year.


Hundredth Day of School Math Sheet And Other Activities

The great thing about this year, though, is that she was able to come up with most of them herself, with just a few ideas from me.

Hundredth Day of School Math Sheet And Other Activities

Hundredth Day of School Math Sheet And Other Activities

Meanwhile, Noah was across the table, blissfully happy with his numbers train. And I was trying my best not to cringe from his out-of-order numbers.

Lego Counting Train

I managed to pry him away to participate in crown-making – the idea was to put 100 stickers on each crown.

Hundredth Day of School Crowns and Other Activities

He placed five.

I placed ninety-five.

This fact did not make him at all reticent about admiring himself in my iPhone camera.

Hundredth Day of School Crowns and Other Activities

(In case you’re wondering, he lost his shirt at breakfast thanks to that fancy cup.)

Meanwhile, Ali was placing two stickers, writing down what number she was at, drawing auxiliary art, getting distracted, placing two more stickers….I was ready to go to heaven, too, before she finally finished.

Hundredth Day of School Crowns and Other Activities

But she did. And they posed. And we moved on to other schoolwork.

Hundredth Day of School Crowns and Other Activities

The final thing I did was show them what they would look like as old people, thanks to the AgingBooth app.. Technically not a hundred years old, but I’m the teacher and I told them so.

Either way, they were amused.


Hundredth Day of School Aging App and Other Activities

Hundredth Day of School Aging App and Other Activities


Hundredth Day of School Aging App and Other Activities

Hundredth Day of School Aging App and Other Activities

(At least he gets to keep his dimples,)

And yes, I even aged myself. I think the program was especially unkind to my jowls.

Hundredth Day of School Aging App and Other Activities

And this is why you shouldn’t have front facing, clear photos of yourself lying around on my phone. Because lucky Chris – he got off without being aged.

At the end of the day, I received the ultimate compliment from Ali – one that I don’t expect to ever receive again.

“Going to Gramamma’s house is fun, but the Hundredth Day of School was even more fun.”

I guess this means that I should attempt to be one of those homeschool Moms more often.

But don’t worry – I won’t.

How to Make Lego Candy.

How to Make Lego Candy

The only toy Noah likes that doesn’t have wheels are Legos.

And, if we’re being honest, he really only likes those because they can have wheels. And even better, he can remove and replace those wheels over. And over. And over.

All day long.

Every day.

For the rest of his life, if his Father’s hobbies are any indication.

So for his birthday (Noah’s, not his Father’s), he wanted a Lego party. I knew with it being a week before Christmas I wasn’t going to be able to pull off anything spectacular, but I already had Lego molds from our Jell-O Legos, so I knew I had to make something with them.

(Yes, it was Ali’s birthday last week. And yes, Noah’s was last year. What can I say – the Birthday-Christmas-Birthday season tramples me with the force of a thousand Llamas.)

And it was so simple that it really doesn’t deserve its own blog post – other than the fact that they were so dang pretty.

How to Make Lego Candy

In a Lego kind of way.

How to Make Lego Candy

Here’s all you need to make these for yourself:

1. Lego molds. The Lego Brand molds are the easiest to work with, as their dots aren’t as high (and therefore let go of the candy easier) than the off-brand ones -I have both and much prefer the Lego Brand.

2. Melting Candy in Lego-ish colors. I used Wilton, but any melting candies would work.

3. Eager Children to cause confusion and delay with their drooling ecstasy.

How to Make Lego Candy

How to Make Lego Candy

How to Make Lego Candy

Here’s what you do:

1. Melt the candies carefully according to the package directions – I’ve burnt many a bag of Wilton Melting Candies, and they’re completely unsalvageable.

2. Pour them into the molds and slap the mold repeatedly and firmly on the countertop. It will make your counters look like Murphy Brown’s Painter-boyfriend’s overalls, but it’s worth it.

How to Make Lego Candy

If you don’t slap, the candy won’t get into the Lego holes. And if the candy doesn’t get into the Lego holes, you won’t have perfect Legos. Notice the dark green Legos above – those are your consequences for not slapping thoroughly, people.

So pretend you’re drowning something and slap until the bubbles quit coming.

3. Refrigerate for about ten minutes, then carefully remove from the molds, pulling apart the sides before pushing on the bottom of the molds to encourage the Legos to stay whole.

4. Give them to your husband to build and serve creatively.

How to Make Lego Candy

They pair especially nicely with Lego Head Cake Pops, but I always recommend sub-contracting that kind of labor out to the professionals.

Lego Head Cake PopsCake Pops by the lovely and talented Jamie’s Rabbits. Lego Cake Pop Stand by my husband. Duh.

Noah was thrilled with all of the above.

Lego Birthday Party

…although he found the Cake Pops pretty, but not worth trying, thereby helping him continue to earn his membership into the Picky Eater’s Club. Which is totally okay because they were really for his Father.

Lego Cake Pops

He did, however, take great joy in being sung to by everyone in the room.

Lego Cake Pops

Then tried (and failed) to dimple his candles out.

Oh – and he also insists that a stack of presents taller than the recipient is also a required accessory for all Lego Birthday Parties…


 So there you have it. All the ingredients for success. At least for one day of the year.