Birmingham the Beautiful

Take a drive in downtown Birmingham and you will experience a vibrant city full of hard-working individuals. There is growth on every corner, like the newly renovated Pizitz building that consists of over 15 food compartments, Sidewalk Film Festival and several shopping options as well as condominium living upstairs.

While there is growth, there is also tradition like the “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham” sign outside John’s City Diner.

Take a walk down any street in the Historical District and you’ll find a new appreciation for this city with every step you take. With the old, there is also new. Take the new home of the Birmingham Barons, Region Field.

Summer mornings are spent doing yoga at Railroad Park, afternoons hiking at Red Mountain Park and nights are spent at Regions Field cheering on the Birmingham Barons.

Whether young or old, this city has something for everyone at every walk of life.

Look out because Birmingham is quickly growing into a must-see destination!

 

 

 

These movies were filmed in Alabama. Are they on your watchlist?

From “Selma” to “Sweet Home Alabama,” there’s a wealth of movies that Alabamians can boast were filmed in their home state. However, some viewer favorites were filmed closer than you think, and you might not even know it. Check out these three blockbusters that you might not have realized were filmed in Alabama.

  1. The Final Destination or Final Destination 4 : The opening crash sequence of this horror movie was filmed at Mobile International Speedway in Irvington, Alabama.
  2. 42: The 2013 release starred Chadwick Boseman, who gave a powerful portrayal of Jackie Robinson. This movie was partially filmed at Rickwood Field in Birmingham.
  3. Friday the 13th Part VII: This 1988 horror film starred Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhies. It used Byrne’s Lake in Stockton to film.

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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Talladega National Forest

“The woods are a nourishing home to me, and the strength I find out there is the same strength I take back into the business of life, and it gives me the motivation to return.” – Jacqueline Taylor

Passing through the hustle and bustle that exists on Interstate 20 on a cool autumn morning, many drivers are unaware of the calm and relaxed experience that lies nearby in the Talladega National Forest. Talladega is not just a superspeedway in Alabama. The natural beauty of the massive Talladega National Forest will bring people into an awe-inspiring, different world that is found off exit 185 outside Oxford, Alabama. Alabama has four national forests that are part of the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service 191 national forests, national grasslands and land utilization projects. The headquarters, located in Montgomery, are in the early stages of officially linking Alabama’s forest paths to the Appalachian Trail.

 

“Theses are your national forests and they are free for you to use any time,” Talladega Area Ranger Gloria Nielsen said. Into the forest we go, to lose our minds and find our souls as we hope to escape the chaos of everyday life, even if just for a few hours. Talladega is an easy hour and a half drive from Birmingham that takes adventure seekers to the Cheaha Trailhead to start their hike along the Pinhoti Trail. Starting there, people can park their cars for the day at no cost. Hikers then begin along the Cave Creek Trail that will take them to the start of the Pinhoti Trail. The Pinhoti National Trail stretches for 335 miles across Alabama’s Appalachian Mountains and into Georgia. The part of the trail found in Alabama was established in 1970 within the Talladega National Forest. The trail is a loop that leads to one of the best overlooks in Alabama, Mt. McDil (1,730 foot elevation). This is a popular destination for overnight backpacking trips.

Hikers all seem to have one simple thing in common: happiness. When people go to Talladega National Forest, they experience solitude. The forest provides a true escape from city life that can be difficult to find in more urban parks. The trail through the forest is clearly marked and easy to follow. During a recent hike, people could be found on the trail traveling for the day from Alabama. One weekend eight students from The University of Alabama Birmingham went backpacking, and a girls Bible study group from Auburn chose to hike the trail for the day. These people all acknowledge one another along the way on the trail, exchanging well wishes and enjoying the remoteness of the forest. They use this as an opportunity to connect with their thoughts, have conversations with their friends and enjoy the peace the great outdoors brings to everyone who encounters the forest for a day. “The views here are even better than what you see in the Smoky Mountains. I think it’s an easier hike too because it is flatter and it feels much more like the wilderness here,” said hiker Ryan Haskins. Talladega is open year round, but fall can be the most captivating time visually. Shades of red, orange and yellow surround hikers as they step into an enchanting, magnificent world. This is a place where the only noises are wildlife, birds chirping and the gentle breeze swaying its way through the trees. Even the most ordinary, city person who is unaccustomed to being outdoors, can connect with the greatness of the forest. Whether you gather a group of friends or come alone, Talladega can be your gateway to a true escape for the day.

 

Spring Break in Birmingham Ideas

If you are staying in Birmingham for Spring Break no need to worry because we have 5 ideas for things you can do on your staycation.

 

Winter Jam 2016

March 19

Doors open at 5:00 pm, Show starts at 5:45 pm

Enjoy listening to some of the most popular Christian artists on the radio right now at Winter Jam 2016. Featured artists include For King and Country, Matthew West, Crowder, Lauren Daigle, Red, Newsong and Sidewalk Prophets.

 

Admission:

$10 at the door

Legacy Arena at the BJCC

2100 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N

Birmingham, AL 35203

 

For more information visit http://2016.jamtour.com

 

Tannehill Trade Days

March 19 – March 20

8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Spend a day searching for clothing, jewelry, furniture and other gems at the Tannehill Trade Days.

Park admission:

$4.00 Adults (12 years and older)

$3.00 Senior’s (Ages 62 and older)

$2.00 Children (Ages 6-11) ages 5 and under free

Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park

12632 Confederate Parkway

Bessemer, AL 35111

For more information visit www.birmingham360.org

 

Hiking at Oak Mountain

7:00 am – 5:00 pm

Oak Mountain State Park offers great hiking as well as horseback riding, boat rentals, fishing and more.

Admission:

$5 per adult (age 12+)

$2 per child (age 4-11)

$2 per Senior (age 62+)

Free for ages 3 & under

 

Oak Mountain State Park

200 Terrace Dr

Pelham, AL 35124

 

For more information visit http://www.alapark.com/oak-mountain-state-park

 

Color Me Rad 5k

March 19

8 am – 12 pm

 

This 5k has eight color stations, covering you head to toe in gluten free powder and every color in the rainbow.

 

Admission:

$50.00 Last Call

$55.00 Day of Registration

 

Hoover Metropolitan Stadium

100 Ben Chapman Drive

Hoover, AL 35244

 

For more information visit http://www.colormerad.com/location/birmingham/

 

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

 

Now that spring has officially arrived it is a great time to spend a day at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Explore the different areas on the gardens and visit the largest public horticulture library in the U.S.

 

Admission:

Free

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

2612 Lane Park Road

Birmingham, AL 35223

 

For more information visit http://www.bbgardens.org

 

Art Crawl and Moss Rock Festival

This weekend the Birmingham Art Crawl and Moss Rock Festival are two great events to attend. These promote and showcase local artists’ work.

Birmingham Art Crawl

Tonight from 5 to 9 p.m. local artists and performers display their work in downtown Birmingham. The art crawl takes place the first Thursday of each month and showcases 40 plus artists. Many stores are also open after hours. Venues are located along the historic arts, loft and theatre districts.

For more information visit www.birminghamartcrawl.com

 

Moss Rock Festival

Saturday Nov. 7 and Sunday Nov 8 the 9th Annual Moss Rock Festival will be held at the Preserve in Hoover.

This outdoor festival will have around 100 juried local artists whose work is inspired by nature or created from materials such as clay, wood, glass or recycled material. All art mediums will be represented and all work will be for sale.

There festival will also have live music, hiking, biking, geocaching, fuel-efficient car exhibitions and more. Certain business and organizations will be at the festival promoting and discussing green living ideas.

The festival is free and begins each day at 10 a.m. and goes until 5 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Visitors must park and ride a shuttle to the festival from The Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

For more information visit www.mossrockfestival.com

It’s Halloween Time, Birmingham

Birmingham has become a good place to spend a Halloween over the last few years. The city opens up major landmarks that are decorated and opened as Halloween attractions. The places recommended are either in Birmingham, Alabama or surrounding it.

If you are looking for some place to go to celebrate the holiday, here are some places to consider:

1. The Birmingham Zoo:

The Birmingham Zoo has become well known around the city for its “Boo at the Zoo” month. It is a fun, family-friendly place to go to experience Halloween.   For the majority of the month, the zoo decorates major attractions; from its trains to its Wildlife shows. The Birmingham Zoo makes a full effort to welcome the holiday while continuing to educate people about its animals. We recommend the Birmingham Zoo for your pre-Halloween night decorations and to learn about its animals in a unique and slightly scary way.

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Photo by Eden Long.

2. Sloss Fright Furnace

Sloss Furnace, in downtown Birmingham, has made a Halloween tradition of turning its furnace into a Halloween attraction. Though it may seem like a normal furnace factory from the outside, inside it is very different story during the month of October.  From its furnace flames to its Halloween zombie training, Sloss Fright Furnace is a horrifically scary place to visit. We recommend stopping by the historic landmark for some Halloween filled fun.

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Photo by Eden Long.

3. Atrox Factory:

The Atrox Factory, located in Leeds, Alabama has earned the reputation of being one of the scariest attractions not just in Alabama, but in the entire southeast. During the month of October, the factory becomes a haunted house with some of the most terrifying attractions.  Atrox is an unique attraction in the surrounding Birmingham area that fans of horror should go visit. We recommend you arriving early because this attraction gathers visitors from far and wide, but the line is definitely worth the wait.

Best Spring Break Locations

Spring Breakers on Miami Beach
Spring Breakers on Miami Beach

It’s time again for Spring Break. With Samford’s break having just wrapped up and UAB’s about to start, Birmingham students join the ranks of the nation’s college students looking for a break from studying.

Where do these students go for this time of relaxation? With so many options for a warm retreat, “U.S. News and World Report” created a ranking system for Spring Break locations based on a college student’s ideal place being one that is “affordable, accessible, popular among their peers and adheres to a party mentality.”

Using that criteria, here is the list that they came up with.

  1. Miami Beach: Affordable compared to other Florida beaches, lined with clubs and bars and pleasant beaches make this location easily slide into first place.
  2. South Padre Island: A tiny island on the tip of Texas, this location is an affordable and lesser-known Spring Break island.
  3. Cancun: Why mess with the classics? This has always been known as one of the most popular spring break locations.
  4. Puerto Vallarta: More than just beaches, this area offers hidden coves to explore. It is an ideal location for students who love the outdoors.
  5. Bahamas: The allure of Caribbean culture draws students in, and the cheap housing options seal the deal.
  6. Jamaica: Another well-known Spring Break location, Jamaica offers all the fun of the beach with a mood that is a bit more relaxed than U.S. coasts.
  7. Puerto Rico: While not a stereotypical spring break spot, Puerto Rico is still famous for its beautiful beaches and music.
  8. San Diego: This location offers sand and boardwalks at a much milder temperature than other places.
  9. Cabo San Lucas: For those students who are willing to pay steeper hotel prices, this location is considered the party capital of southern Baja.
  10. Daytona: A spot that was once more popular with spring breakers, many students are still drawn in by its affordability. Not to mention, you can drive on the beach!

Dangerous missions: Kayla Mueller and young charity workers abroad

Caroline Noland in Pakistan
Caroline Noland, rear center, with Pakistani women and girls she met during her work with the Primary Education Project.

by Sydney Cromwell

The death of Kayla Mueller on Feb. 6 highlights the worst fears of young humanitarian workers and their families: A 26-year-old American woman, working for Support to Life in Syria, who was kidnapped by a rising terrorist movement and ultimately killed by an airstrike on the terrorists’ base.

“It always is our tendency to be horrified when someone is killed by an act of violence, but it’s compounded when someone is so young and has lived so altruistically,” Samford University global involvement minister Renee Pitts said.

Mueller had worked with a variety of charity organizations in the U.S. and around the Middle East and Asia before being captured by ISIS while leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital. Pitts said the tragedy of her death was brought into sharp relief by her role both as a mother and a counselor for students looking to do global mission work.

“Kayla was really living on the edge in the most war-torn area of the world,” Pitts said. “We have a lot of students like that with hearts of compassion.”

One such student is Caroline Nolandd, a 2012 graduate who spent around two years in Pakistan. d worked for the Primary Education Project, building schools in rural villages and emphasizing girls’ education. Pakistan is the same country where Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai was shot by members of the Taliban for promoting female education.

Noland said she has always had a passion for female education and empowerment. She decided to go to Pakistan because of its low rates of schooling for young girls. Before she arrived, Noland was actually more worried about socializing in a community that did not speak English than about her safety.

“I think as people of God, the places we should be are some of the hardest,” Noland said. “I wanted to go to the places where other people wouldn’t go. Or maybe I was just stupid.”

On her first night, however, Noland heard repeated gunfire and slept under her bed, convinced the Taliban was coming to kill her. She later found out the gunfire was part of a wedding celebration.

Noland also learned that during the 2013 general election, a nearby city shut down about every other week and residents would set fire to cars and protest in the streets. When that happened, teacher training would stop and she couldn’t leave the house to go to the grocery store or the bank. Eventually, the sound of gunfire no longer bothered her.

“Instead of feeling dangerous, mostly it was just an inconvenience,” Noland said. “You have to assume it’s not dangerous to keep going.”

Despite the risks, Noland stayed safe and found the community she’d been hoping for. She said many people hesitate to go to places like the Middle East because they have a false sense of security at home.

“I don’t want to not fully experience and live life because I’m scared something would happen,” Noland said.

Both Noland and Pitts said fear should not override a passion for service, but careful thought about motivation and clear-eyed risk assessment are critical for anyone considering perilous humanitarian work. An outcome like Mueller’s is never entirely preventable, but young aid workers can reduce their danger and be certain that their cause is worth the risk.

“Don’t go somewhere because you think it’s sexy. Go somewhere because you think it’s meaningful work for yourself and others,” Noland said. “The thrill will grow dull, and all you’re left with are the people you’re surrounded with, God and the work you do.”