Rising Sports: Birmingham Hammers

Soccer has become an increasingly popular sport since the early 2000s. According to a 2014 ESPN poll, 18 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds were avid MLS fans compared to only 10 percent in 2004.

Kids are not only watching soccer, but also playing it. More than 3 million players are registered under US Youth Soccer while clubs across the country continue to see an increase in participation. Almost 16,000 youth players are registered in Alabama and over 30 had committed to play at the collegiate level last year.

President of the Birmingham Hammers Morgan Copes recognized the growing attraction of soccer in 2013 and set out to bring the sport in a major context to Birmingham.

“Just because there’s a lack of professional sports in Alabama doesn’t mean that there’s not a want for them,” the club’s president said. The Birmingham Hammers’ 2015 exhibition season brought in big crowds, proving to Copes that Alabama would embrace the world’s most popular sport.

The 2016 season was the Hammer’s first season in the National Premier Soccer League, playing teams across the South including teams from Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans. Copes and his staff have taken thorough steps to make the club successful, and will continue to do so in order to improve the organization.

“We’re making sure that we do the little things right so we can keep getting better,” Copes said.

Copes and the Hammers have also used their social media presence to garner fans, with over 6,500 likes on Facebook and 2,000 followers on Twitter.

“Fans have been responsive to our social media platforms and we’re excited about the reaction,” he said.

The Hammers will play their first home game of the season on May 13 at Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex against Inter Nashville FC.

30th Street Cakes Now Open

“Ring by Spring”, a common phrase thrown around on the local campus of Samford University. The idea that many graduating seniors will be engaged by  their spring semester has led engaged Samford senior Mary Michael Maddox to capitalize on the phenomenon, and her passion for baking, and open up her very own local wedding cake company. 30th Streets Cakes officially launched March 2 in the kitchen of Mary Michael’s little apartment in Highland Park.

 

After years of helping her mom out in the kitchen of their family farmhouse in Dothan, Alabama, her daily rituals became her youthful passion which has now led to the start of her first business as she begins the journey of “adulting”. Mary Michael believes in the essence of celebration and strives to create a cake worthy for anyone’s BIG day or  anything else worth celebrating. In her biography online she talks about the abundance of celebrations and parties her family threw growing up, she says, “basically anything you can think of, we threw a party for. And when there was a party, there was a cake.”

Mary Michael’s love for the small and simple details of a celebration are visibly seen in her work. Her cakes are simple and elegant with whimsical strokes of frosting laced with wild botanicals. “I believe that our generation has moved passed the desire for perfect elegant cakes and more towards the desire for the natural and simple look.” She finds joy in not only the finished product but also in the process of creating a cake, an art of sorts.  “My goal is to create more of an artisanal style of cake.” says, Mary Michael.

If you are throwing an upcoming party or looking for the perfect wedding cake, send Mary Michael an email or stop by her website: www.30thstreetcakes.com. She would love to sit down with you over a good cup of coffee and talk celebrations.

Directionally Challenged

If you were to ask my sweet, sweet girlfriend, Tori, for one of my biggest flaws, she would undoubtedly tell you that I am directionally challenged. And she would be absolutely correct. So much so, that when I first started driving I needed a GPS to find my house even when I was in my own neighborhood. So I don’t know why I thought that hiking a trail marked “most strenuous” without a map was a good idea, but nevertheless I did.

Leading up to the hike, I was very proud of the day I had planned for us. We were supposed to go on a 5-mile trek over the Black Balsam Bald near Asheville, North Carolina, and then head down into Asheville for dinner. She had no idea of our plans, and I jokingly said on the ride up, “Don’t worry, today will have enough excitement for today and tomorrow.” I had no idea how true this statement would turn out to be.

It was an amazing day for a hike, and I was so thankful to be able to take in the Lord’s wonderful creation with Tori. We did our devotional together on top of the Tennent Mountain, and we talked about surrendering our lives/relationship fully to the Lord. We discussed how this can be difficult and, as our devotional put it, that “surrender goes against every fiber of our being.” However, when we do surrender to Him we experience peace and joy, and our relationships are truly more secure because they are rooted in God.

It was a great devotional, but we had no idea how real all that we had discussed would become in a few, short hours.

Around 4 p.m., after we had hiked a little over four miles, we came to the end of the Art Loeb trail, which I thought was a loop. This is when the problems started appearing. The loop was nowhere to be found, and we were left guessing which way to go. I quickly realized that I did not do enough research on the trail we were hiking because I had no idea which way we were supposed to go at this point. All we knew was that we didn’t want to turn back and hike four more miles to get out. So, we decided to embark on a trail that we thought might lead us back to our car.

Bad idea.

I always thought that getting lost in the mountains with minimal water, dying phones and without flashlights would never happen to me, but indeed here we were. We realized we did not know where we were so we would take trails that we thought would lead us back to the parking lot, but that never happened.

A few hours earlier, we had joked about getting lost in the woods and having to spend the night out there. Now it was a real possibility, and we were definitely unprepared for that. We started praying that the Lord would lead us out.

Tori was ready to be back in the car, and I felt like an idiot for getting us lost in the woods. We were asking ourselves, as Taylor Swift says, “Are we out of the woods yet?” around every bend. The answer was “no” every single time.

Now it was dark, and we were no closer to being on the right trail. I began praying that the Lord would supernaturally direct us. I did not have any idea what that was going to look like, but I knew we needed direction. We were completely lost, and without Him we were not going to find our way out that night. Sounds a lot like our need for a Savior, doesn’t it?

Fork in the road

In this moment of prayer we came to a fork in the road. We decided to go straight, which was actually the wrong choice. However, we walked a little ways and literally stumbled upon two people camping for the night. They asked if we were okay, and I had to swallow my pride and admit that we were most certainly not okay.

They were able to refill our empty water bottle, give us headlamps and point us in the right direction thanks to their maps. Finally, we were headed on the right path.

At this point, Tori was extremely frustrated with me, rightfully so, because I got us into this mess. This was definitely the biggest trial that we had faced thus far in our almost-six-month relationship. I hated that I had gotten us in this mess, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the faithfulness of the Lord and how He always provides for us. He literally was the lamp unto our feet and light unto our steps on this night.

The Father’s presence was so real to us. I kept telling Tori how crazy it was that we tried to find our own way and only got more lost, but in those moments of complete cluelessness the Lord provided for all our needs. We might have skipped church to go hiking, but we definitely got our dose of church and learned so much about how amazing our God truly is.

It was through recognizing this truth about the Lord — and many, many apologies on my part — that Tori and I were able to reconcile. I was so thankful for the reconciliation. I figured that since we had made up we could enjoy the millions of stars we saw as we hiked back.

All of the happiness of making up and awe of the stars vanished in an instant when we saw four glowing lights floating on the trail in front of us. They were not stars, but four eyes staring directly at us. The eyes were silver, which we later learned, is common among wolves. My prayer in life is to have a heart like David, but I did not mean that I wanted to kill predators with a slingshot, or in my case, a tiny, hiking knife. Again, the Lord was watching out for us, and the wolves disappeared into the thicket.

At this point in our hike we still had about an hour and a half of hiking left to do. That was definitely the most uneasy hour of hiking I have ever done in my life. We spent the rest of the hike yelling in hopes that the animals would leave us alone, which they did. During this time we were hiking through the valleys of the mountains in thicket that rose above our heads. Every step was not a matter of life and death, but it was a very real reminder that the Lord does watch over us in the valley of the shadows of death.

We made it through the thicket and over the balds and the trail started to look more and more familiar. Then, as we walked through the trees we could see the road; we had made it out of the forest!

We still had to walk a mile down the pitch-black road to our car, which was nerve-racking in itself, thanks to the heckling campers we passed just as we were exiting the woods.

Thankfully though, nine hours and over 15 miles later, we reached the car.

Never in my life have I been more excited about Taco Bell and getting stuck at red lights as I was when we made it down the mountain and into Ashville.

Looking back, that hike certainly produced copious amounts of tears and basically every emotion in the books. However, it also gave me a deeper understanding and thankfulness for the Lord as my provider, and encouragement for my relationship with the always-forgiving Tori Stoenica. Because if we can remain rooted in the Lord during our trials like the ones we faced on the hike, than our relationship will continue to head in the right direction.

Finally, in life, when we remain fully dependent on our Heavenly Father, we can have full confidence that He will always lead us on the right path; it doesn’t matter how directionally challenged we might be.

 

There’s No Place Like: Pelham

Blue Water Park
Blue Water Park is an escape from the heat of central Alabama on a sunny afternoon without driving hours to the coast. The company that used to be Dive Alabama offers scuba diving training as well as rentals for kayaks and paddleboards. Classes are offered throughout the year for all skill levels, ranging from beginners to experienced divers.

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Oak Mountain State Park
Oak Mountain State Park provides a range of activities for people of all ages and activity levels to enjoy. Hiking and mountain biking trails are the most popular ventures in the park, where you can find waterfalls and scenic views. There are also spaces for camping, fishing and picnics. The state park also offers a cable water playground where you can show off wakeboard tricks as you weave through obstacles in the water.

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Pelham Civic Center
During the winter, the Pelham Civic Complex is a favorite gathering place for ice skating. If you’re not skating-inclined, then the ice arena also offers broomball, a cross between quidditch and hockey. The arena is open year-round for these activities as well as training classes, hockey, and figure skating.

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Oak Mountain Emporium
If you’re looking for a less active afternoon, stop by Oak Mountain Emporium. The antique and collectibles shop features items from 40 area dealers, varying from décor and glassware to chandeliers and porcelain. And just for fun- see how many bird items you can count!

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New Park Improvements Coming to Regions Field

As baseball teams kick off spring training, improvements to Regions Field are scheduled for the new season.

The Barons announced on Wednesday that there will be new additions built on 14th street, the same side of the stadium that the famous metal Birmingham sign is located.

SwitchYard on 14th, the addition’s title, will include refreshments and games for the whole family. Two vintage airstream trailers will house food and beverages respectively.

The food featured will have something for everyone in the family but focus on traditional ballpark food. The beverages airstream will feature local Birmingham selections as well as the expected mainstay drinks.

Outdoor games are also going to be included in the new space including a regulation-sized bocce ball court and ping pong tables.

The Barons’ season doesn’t begin until April 6 and they don’t begin home play until April 12, but the new addition should be ready to usher in the first fans for the 2017 season.

Hungry? Get a Taste of Homewood

On Thursday, March 9 at 5:30 p.m., all of your favorite Homewood eateries will come together for the 16th annual “Taste of Homewood”.

Hosted by the Homewood Chamber of Commerce and presented by the Homewood Star, 30 Homewood restaurants are gathering in Rosewood Hall to provide food and drink samples to the over 400 hungry patrons they expect to host. New restaurants to the vendor lineup include biscuit specialist Holler & Dash, to-go caterer Lunchbox Express and seafood chain The Shrimp Basket.

Each restaurant will give eaters a glimpse into their cuisines, encouraging them to return for a meal and explore other areas of Homewood. Allen Barlow will provide acoustic music for guests to enjoy while dining and socializing.

To encourage socialization, Homewood Chamber of Commerce communications manager Sarah Anne Elliott suggests using the hashtag #tasteofhomewood on social media posts throughout the night.

“This year we are encouraging attendees to use the hashtag #tasteofhomewood to post on social media and be entered to win a Shop Homewood Instagift gift card and the chance for their photo to be featured in the marketing of next year’s event,” Elliott said. Entries will be taken from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Tickets are $30 until the day of the event, when they will increase to $40 at the door. The proceeds go to Chamber of Commerce scholarships and Homewood community development. Brings the kids, too! Children under six enter free.

Interested in visiting one of the featured restaurants ahead of time or stopping for a full meal following the event? Click on the map below to explore the locations of your tasty options.

 

There’s No Place Like Vestavia Hills

Vestavia Hills boasts many simple and natural attractions that will keep both your mind and body active.

Library in the Forest
Wall-scaling windows and colorful leaves invite visitors to take a seat and stay awhile. Located on Highway 31, the Library in the Forest is an urban oasis where anyone can get lost in their imagination or relive history. The public library has thousands of books for visitors to choose from as well as multiple events throughout the week for people of all ages to attend, including 3D printing classes, children’s story times and family yoga.

Klingler’s Café
It’s almost like you’ve jumped the pond and been transported to the world’s oldest region as soon as you enter Klingler’s Café. This local breakfast and lunch restaurant carries European bakery items in addition to their full menu that offers a twist on classic breakfast items. From big breakfast platters and buttery grits bowls to fluffy pancakes and omelets, the small business is packed every time you walk in.

Wald Park
Beautiful afternoons beckon for you, family, and friends to enjoy your time outside, and Wald Park’s facilities allow for all types of activities: playgrounds, baseball fields, a swimming pool and a giant walking loop. With something for everyone to do, it’s easy to get out and get active together.

Shades Crest Road
The best views (and sunsets!) of Birmingham are seen while driving along the top of Red Mountain on Shades Crest Road. In addition to seeing the bustling life below in the valley, you can see the Birmingham terrain go on for miles as the hills roll on out of sight. If you want somewhere to stop and admire the view, try Vestavia Hills Baptist Church to embrace the full ambience.

Keeping the Creativity

Madison Whitehead, founder of Keeping the Creativity

Have you ever felt like your creative freedom is stifled by your work environment? That you have no time for creativity in your work because you are constantly managing and maintaining your business?

One emerging business owner successfully crafted a solution.

Madison Whiteneck is the mastermind behind Keeping the Creativity, a business that manages busy work for companies so business owners can get work on what matters. They can get back to creativity.

Whiteneck graduated from Samford University in 2016 with a degree in journalism and mass communication and has turned her combined passions for creativity and organization into a business.

Her vision is to provide local creatives with services such as social media, product launch, inbox management and large-scale writing pieces.   She achieves this through virtual assistant services, or management of the “little things,” which normally occupy the visionary’s brainpower and time.

Keeping the Creativity also provides freelance services including InDesign work and editing. The services range from daily assistance to passion projects.

When Whiteneck is not busy planning her own life, she is at work planning the lives of others.  Her new website launched this month, and her network of creatives continues to grow.

In Whiteneck’s business venture, it pays to be creative. Here is a conversation with Whiteneck about how her ambitious idea helped launch Keeping the Creativity.

 

Where did the idea for Keeping the Creativity originate?

Keeping the Creativity originally started out as a blog. My 9 to 5 job right out of college was pretty limiting to my personal creativity and I wanted to “keep the creativity” alive, so I started blogging. I wrote about everything from DIY’s to local coffee shops and my latest favorite outfits. I offered freelance services at the time so I started to feature more of my projects on my website as well. When I left my first career job, interest in my blog turned business grew a lot so I started taking on full time clients and more freelance projects.  

 

What is the most challenging part of starting your own business?

Finding and landing new and exciting clients. Having a local creative network has helped me a ton in gaining projects that I am excited to work on, but I always want to keep extending that network as much as possible. It takes a lot of work to reach out to others and turn it into business. Most of the time when I reach out to other creative, it just starts as a mutual interest in a project or idea and then it turns into a collaboration or working together, which I love.

 

 What is a valuable lesson you have learned since starting Keeping the Creativity?

Don’t let other people’s negative opinions discredit your hard work. I have put in a lot of time and effort into building my business and I understand there can be a lot of competition out there, but I have to just be myself and do the best with what I’ve got.

 

What is your advice to someone dreaming up a large-scale business idea?

Take a serious look at the time you can devote to your idea. Also, look at your finances because you have to invest a lot in the beginning. This past year, I invested almost half of what I made into my business, but it has paid off. In the first two months of 2017, my income has already equaled all of what I made last year with Keeping the Creativity.

 

What is your vision for the future of Keeping the Creativity?

I would love to work with more creatives to help them execute their big brand ideas. It would be great if Keeping the Creativity could evolve into a creative consulting agency. Who knows?! I am keeping the door open on those aspects for the future.

Birmingham Urban Planning

Urban Planning is a technical and political process concerned with the development and use of land, planning permission, protection, and use of the environment, public welfare, and the design of the urban environment. People also define it as the process of deciding how land will be used, both in the present and over the long term. It needs to take into account not only structures, but also the people and the community impacted by the space. The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPC) provides planning series, economic development services and multiple initiatives for 6 counties and 84 communities throughout central Alabama.

Live. Play. Work. Community. The RPC is an example of impacting urban planning in Birmingham for the past 50 years. Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby and Walker are the 6 counties apart of RPC. The goal is, “improve the lives of people in our region.” They do this by focusing their projects on transportation,  medicaid waiver, community planning, they try to remove traffic congestion, and economic development for small businesses. This is the team that helps local municipalities secure state and federal resources to be successful.

The Birmingham-Hoover area has seen population increases with its growth in urban development. North of town is the most prime for development which is the main reason there is so much room to grow in the Birmingham neighborhoods. The revitalization of the downtown areas will continue to see significant growth in the immediate future for Birmingham. According to AL.com, “Birmingham is no longer the sleepy little Southern city it once was.” There are very large institutions hiring extremely technical folks, companies like BBVA Compass Bank, Protective Life, Regions, and with the addition of plenty of company start-ups that have chosen Birmingham as their homes.

According to AL.com, “Companies are tasked with keeping young professionals here while also marketing our fine city to could-be young professionals in competing cities such as Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, Jacksonville, and Huntsville.”

A young professional might like the idea of working in urban planning if they want to be involved in their community and develop an area in that community into a better, livable space. An urban planning job varies based on the area. Rural vs. urban area will have different needs, however, the role is focused on planning how space will be used, and what pages will be allowed. Birmingham is the perfect revitalization city that has been attracting young talent in areas such as urban planning.

There’s No Place Like Homewood

Have you ever heard of some of the suburbs of Birmingham and wanted to visit, but weren’t sure what to do there? We here at The Local will take time over the next four weeks to take you to the most popular neighborhoods of Birmingham and highlight the best things to do there.

Homewood is a thriving suburb south of Birmingham that balances the world of commercial retail and local joints, making this city a unique place to spend the day touring.

When you first arrive in Homewood, shop around and get something to eat on the iconic 18th Street in downtown Homewood. The strip of diverse stores and restaurants will bring the small-town feeling to life as you pop in and out of the locally run shops.

18th Street in downtown Homewood.

Next, drive less than a mile over to Do It Yourself Crafts to immerse yourself in a creative and relaxing environment. From making pottery and painting to glass fusing and decorating ornaments, there are a wide variety of crafts you and your friends can make together. Classes are offered throughout the week and spaces are available for parties and group events.

Urban Air is the next stop, especially if you have kids with you. Let them get all their energy out at the indoor trampoline park as they jump on wall-to-wall trampolines, dunk

Homewood antique store in the Edgewood neighborhood.

basketballs in super tall baskets, play dodgeball and flip into the huge foam pits. The family-friendly trampoline park hosts birthday parties for all ages.

 

When it’s time for dinner, the Edgewood neighborhood of Homewood will satisfy your hunger. With all types of cuisines, it’ll be hard to choose what to eat.

Once you’ve finished up your meal (and ice cream from the local creamery) stroll down to Homewood Park, where you can play ball or watch the sunset.

 

Homewood Park

Let us know how your day in Homewood was in the comments below.