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Exploring (New) Birmingham

When I was a little girl, my impression of Birmingham’s downtown area was a jumble of closed up, falling apart, and run-down buildings. My Mom would tell me of their grandness when she was a child, and I would daydream as to what it must have been like to dress up in my Sunday best to go shopping downtown.

Because of this, my childhood assumption was that all downtowns were dead or dying like Birmingham’s was. I was amazed to visit vibrant city centers like Atlanta and Chattanooga and discover that in other cities, people not only went downtown, but actually lived downtown. I became, and stayed, very jealous of other cities’ awesome urban-ness.

So it absolutely thrills my heart that Birmingham is finally, but very rapidly, changing. We have real things in downtown now – Ali and I often visit our awesome children’s science center, The McWane Center, the historic but falling down buildings are being refitted and turned into lofts quicker than I can keep up with, and new and very-Atlanta-looking condominiums are popping up all around.

I hope that Ali’s assumptions about downtowns are completely different than mine were.

The newest addition to downtown’s growing appeal is Railroad Park. Located right in the middle of the city between 1st Avenue South and 1st Avenue North, it is a beautiful, crisp, fresh urban park. It is comprised of 19 acres of ponds, streams, playgrounds, picnic benches, walking and biking trails, and beautiful green areas.

We visited Railroad Park for the first time on Saturday, and it endeared me even more to our newly reviving downtown.IMG_1313

Ali loved running in the grass…


And on the long benches.


The playground was very clean and enclosed for plenty of safe playing,


And the streams and ponds were beautiful – and made even more so by the railroad tracks and downtown skyline behind them: IMG_1318

There were also “biking bowls” (for lack of a better term??) and a skate park across the street for those more daring than my child will probably ever be.
They also advertise a Dining Car on their website at which we planned on eating, but it is either only open during the week or not quite open yet, or we were just too dense to be able to find it. However, there IS a Dominoes across the street that gladly sold us a Pizza Picnic.

Ali and I also visited another new addition to our city on Friday – one that I have been ever-so-anxiously awaiting the arrival of: The Shops of Grand River.IMG_1280
Located in Leeds (which is much closer than most people think – it’s the very next exit off of I-20 after 459), it’s a brand new and quite large outlet center – something that Birmingham has lacked for a long time (sorry, Watermark, but you never really satiated my needs for outlet shopping).

They opened last Thursday and have a great selection of stores – all of my favorites, for sure. At first, I wasn’t sure about the internal format – I was afraid it would be hard to get around, but once we arrived, I loved it – it felt very much like a mall with two open-air hallways:


I was also surprised that the stores were already running some great deals – I figured since it was opening weekend, they might not have sales yet, but I picked up several things for Ali and Noah at highly discounted prices.

One store I was especially excited to visit was Stone Soup – run by my Aunt Tena of Earthborn Pottery (that I’ve talked about many times before), it is a conglomeration gallery of many local artists of all different types. And it was huge!!

The selection was an awesome mix of paintings, pottery, furniture, mixed media, glass art, and all sorts of other exciting artisan-level pieces at great prices – I will definitely be going back there for some Christmas shopping.


Ali found her favorite, a centipede:


Ali and I also checked out the food court, which was really great, except that half of the eateries weren’t open yet. But once they all open, there will be a good selection.


I was also very happy to see that, although the sidewalks were prepared for the arrival of my Nemeses…

There were NO kiosks installed yet.

Maybe they’ll let us have a happy, peaceful holiday shopping season before implementing Kiosk Predators.

Despite all of the walking we did, even Ali was a fan – when it was time to go, she begged me for more – “But I want to stay at The New Mall for FOREVER!!”IMG_1264
Both Railroad Park and The Shops at Grand River are great additions to Birmingham and the surrounding area – I’m thrilled to see our city growing and changing!

Disclaimer: No one paid me or asked me to write these reviews – I just enjoyed our outings and wanted to make sure that all you local people knew about the exciting additions to Birmingham.

Monster Bowls: A Giveaway!

I’ve told you plenty in a bazillion different posts about my Aunt Tena’s pottery. My number of mentions and my Kitchen Cabinets definitely attest to my love of her work.

But I’ve been keeping a secret from you: Her son, Nathan (my cousin), and his wife, Katie.katie-nathan-payne-custom-potteryThey also have some magnificent work that they’ve been selling at art shows for years, but they just opened up a shop on Etsy to share it with the online world.

(Their Etsy site still a work in progress, so all of their work isn’t up yet, but if there’s something you see in this post you want to buy, I’m sure they’ll let you.)

While Tena’s work is mesmerizingly sophisticated, Nathan’s is every bit as whimsical. You can immediately sense the masculine touch in his humorous designs.

My favorite of his creations is the Monster Bowl, sure to get any picky eater to chow down if they get to eat straight from a Monster’s Mouth, right?monster-bowls-custom-pottery

These retail for $30, and I adore them.

Some of his other creations include this fish bowl:custom-pottery-fish-shaped-bowl

And his Robot Bottles, which are ever-so-creative:blue-robot-bottle-custom-pottery


His wife, Katie, also has a knack for clay. She has been using it to make gorgeous and unique jewelry pieces:alabama-custom-jewelry-clay-ring

They are all hand-formed, so each one is a unique work of art:katie-payne-custom-jewelry-necklace


Now, for the giveaway:

I have two Monster bowls, and one will go to the child winner of my Basketball Bracket Pool (which is actually the one who does the worst, as I previously explained), and the other one is to give away to one of you!monster-bowls-custom-pottery

If you’d like to win a Monster Bowl, simply comment on the post.

You can earn up to four extra entries by:

  • Going to Nathan and Katie’s Etsy Site and tell me one thing that you would want to order.
  • Subscribe to OR Follow my blog
  • Follow me on Twitter OR Facebook
  • Tweet, blog, OR Facebook about this giveaway

(be sure to leave separate comments for your extra entries.)

Best of luck! This giveaway is open until Monday, April 5th. The winner will be randomly selected and posted on my giveaway winners page on Tuesday, April 6th.

I’d like to give a special Thank You for all of these amazing photos, which were provided courtesy of Amanda Pair, an awesome local photographer. Be sure to check out her site – I was blown away! Thanks, Amanda!

Disclosure: I received no compensation to run this review and giveaway. I do it simply out of love to all of you, and out of love of Nathan and Katie’s work. And I’m really starting to consider writing completely oddball things in these required-by-the-Government-disclosures, just to see if anyone reads them. Such as, I find the term “Opposable Thumbs” strange sounding. That’s all.