I need all present and former Birmingham natives to pay special attention to this post, for we are called upon to help a visitor from the North make the most of her stay in The Magic City in April. Here’s what Mindy told me:
I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now and love your writing. You are always humorous and entertaining and real. My husband has to go to Birmingham on business in April and I am thinking about tagging along. If you have a minute, can you send me any thoughts on hotels, restaurants, things to see and do? I will be on my own during the day and will need to stay in an area where I can see the sights, shop, etc. on foot.
I asked Mindy for more details, because if there’s one thing Birmingham is lacking (besides snow), it’s public transportation. I also wanted to know more about her interests.
My husband will be going to meetings all over the city, and he will have a vehicle so I was hoping to find an area to stay in where I could get around on foot. We will be staying on for a couple of days after he is done, so can hit any sights that require a car then. We have four kids under 8, so this is an escape for me. Weather permitting, I could happily park myself in a lounge chair by a hotel pool with a gin and tonic and a good book, but also interested in good food, good wine and some shopping but not the malls, necessarily. Also a history buff – noticed both the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Civil Rights Institute on the city website.
Fellow citizens: let us help Mindy plan a perfect trip to Birmingham. Because she’s escaping from all those children, she needs a day to sit by the pool and relax. Where should she stay? What sights should she see? What areas of town are a must? What food would you recommend? Will she die if she doesn’t visit a meat and three for lunch and sample grits for breakfast? And most importantly, how should she travel to all these places? Do you have a special place that would impress a visitor from Canada?
To leave a comment, look at the small print beneath the post where it says “_ comments.” Click that and a box will pop up for you to add your two cents.
When I went to Africa, people told me that it would permanently change the way I looked at the world.“The land goes on forever, and instead of SUVs and Starbucks you see elephants and zebras,” my sister told me. “It makes the Tiny Kingdom seem very small and insignificant.”
Once I arrived in Kenya, I understood what she meant.The grass stretched out endlessly, dotted with acacia trees and giraffes.It was gorgeous and peaceful, and I was almost able to forget that Bill and the boys were half a world away.
We first stayed at a camp made up of tents.The bathrooms were glorified port-a-potties, and although they were located only a few steps away from the tents, the owners warned us to be extremely cautious about using them at night.Cape buffalo were active after dark and would come close to the tents.Those cape buffalo were something else.They had horns, hairy chins, bulgy skin hanging off their faces and piggy eyes.Cape buffalo were ferocious and killed people and lions.
We were instructed to turn on our flashlights and wait for a Masai warrior with a spear to come to the tent and escort us the seven feet or so to the potty so we wouldn’t end up as a midnight snack.I decided not to drink anything after 3 p.m. and avoid a standoff altogether.Although most people think of lions when they think of Africa, it was the bloodthirsty cape buffalo that gave me nightmares.
You must pack lightly for a safari, and thus your clothes have to be laundered along the way.Many camps offer this service.You bundle your dirty clothes, fill out a slip that itemizes them, and they appear, clean and fresh, at your tent in the morning.
As I filled out my laundry slip I encountered some problems.First, the paper stated that “Ladies undergarments will not be accepted for laundry.”That was odd.My panties were the smallest, thinnest, easiest item to wash, and fun to look at besides.The form also said, “Occasionally cape buffalo and hyena raid the laundry yard.The lodge accepts no responsibility whatsoever for guest clothing damaged during cleaning.” Those cape buffalo again.I’d heard all about their murderous ways, so I was surprised to hear that they had a hygienic streak as well.
I asked about the underwear exclusion, and was told that African men consider it beneath their dignity to wash women’s panties.They’re not so different from my boys after all, except that the Masai wear red blankets and carry spears.
When I taught Drew how to wash clothes, the darks were not a problem.Cold water, detergent, check all pockets, and press start.But as I coached him through the whites, I encountered some resistance.
“Okay, same deal, but we’re washing on warm.Turn the button to warm, add the Tide, and then add the whites, piece by piece.”
Drew began adding socks, kitchen towels and pillow cases, and then he screamed. Porter came running.
“I touched lady panties!”
“Drew, that’s just my underwear,” I said.“It’s part of washing the whites.Just pick them up and toss them in.I wash your underwear all the time.”
“Where are the panties?Where, Mom?I want to see them,” Porter said.“And I thought ‘panties’ was a bad word.”
“I can’t pick them up,” Drew said.“They’re nasty.”
“Good Lord.Just pinch them at the edges and throw them in the machine.This is ridiculous,” I told Drew.
He retrieved my underwear from the hallway where he’d hurled them and flung them into the dryer.At this point they were looking as if a cape buffalo had gotten hold of them.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever had to do,” he said.
“Yeah,” Porter said. “Key word: worst. I don’t want to learn how to do laundry. I’ll just clean up the kitchen every night because there aren’t any panties there.”
I looked at my laundry slip again.I’d had experience with males washing my underwear against their wishes, and it was an unpleasant one.I sent my safari clothes to be cleaned, but I washed my underwear myself.
On the first game drive, we discovered a group of lions flopped lazily under a tree.It was obvious even to me that they had just eaten.They could barely keep their eyes open.
Our guide told us that the lionesses do all the hunting, but the male lions muscle in and eat until they are full.Only then do the women eat what is left.
The guide kept talking, but I was thinking how much our house in Alabama resembled the African countryside at mealtime.Night after night I prepare meals, and I have to restrain my three cubs from slurping up the food until it’s properly blessed.
After they’ve eaten, the boys grow heavy-lidded.They complain that I have the nerve to ask them to clean up the kitchen when what would be best for them, obviously, would be to go directly to bed.If I don’t eat quickly enough, they get seconds, and thirds, until I’m left facing an empty skillet and forced to graze on a container of cherry yogurt to fill my stomach.
It’s not just dinnertime—if I want to eat, I have to guard all my food carefully. When I order Girl Scout cookies, I purchase an extra box of Thin Mints and hide it in my pajama drawer.I learned the hard way that if I don’t, the males will have devoured all the cookies moments after they’ve been placed in the pantry.I wondered if the lioness had a stash of zebra meat hidden in some bushes for a similar African emergency.
As the trip progressed, I began to wonder whether I could bring a cape buffalo home with me.I could train him to guard the evening meal until I’d had a chance to serve a plate of food for myself, ensuring that this lioness wouldn’t go hungry.I’d have to expand the laundry room to accommodate him, but then he could stand sentry over the boys and guarantee that they washed all the laundry, including mine, before I told him to relax and let them return to their Legos.The boys would be protected from bullies, because they could say, “Hit me again and I’ll sic my cape buffalo on you.”
It was such a marvelous idea that when we got to the airport I faxed Bill and asked him to see whether the Tiny Kingdom is zoned for cape buffalo.He suggested that perhaps I’d overdosed on anti-malarial medication and recommended that I sleep as much as possible on the plane.
I still don’t have a cape buffalo, but I sometimes dream about them.In my dreams my cape buffalo isn’t the nightmarish barbaric animal I’d feared at first.He’s my hideous but beloved partner in setting these boys straight.
God knows that I have one teen already and two approaching that age, and that I need that cape buffalo soon.I have faith that my special buffalo is on his way.Best of all, He’ll send me one who’s quit eating humans and developed a taste for grits.I can’t wait until he gets here.
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The boys kept yelling “frank ‘n’ beans!” when they were changing clothes while we were in New York last week. Maybe they do this every time they pull down their pants at home, but if so, I don’t hear it amid the drumming, yelling and twittering of Feathers and Omelet. In the minuscule apartment, however, the frequent outbursts were quite noticeable.
Eventually I realized that “frank ‘n’ beans” refers to a boy’s privates, and that shouting it serves as a warning not to look as the boy briefly exposes his genitals to put on what I hoped was a clean pair of underwear, not the pair that had toured Chinatown the day before.
I pretended not to know what they were yelling about. It’s been a long time since I’ve wiped any butts or bathed anyone in the bathtub. In the last couple of years all three boys, even Porter, have grown quite modest. Honestly, I was quite curious as to how everyone was maturing down there, and I wanted to check out everyone’s frank and beans. I figured that as the mom, if anyone was sporting signs of sauerkraut, I had the right to know.
At first the guys were fixated on whether their brothers were trying to see their manhood, but it didn’t take them long to notice me trying to sneak a peek.
“Mom! Frank ‘n’ beans means don’t look. Give a guy some privacy.”
I found that hypocritical, as these same complainers have been known to track me to the bathroom to ask for lunch money. As the least modest person in the universe, however, I haven’t let it get to me.
The next time I came out of the bathroom I yelled, “Two miniature fried eggs,” just before I ripped off my robe to slap on my bra.**
I can’t always be one of the boys, but I can try.
** Look at the FIRST cute bra I’ve been able to purchase for my tiny tits!
It’s a Wacoal Petite and Viola at Bloomingdales in NYC helped me. It was very expensive ($48) but so worth it for my ego. All my other bras are flat triangles with straps.
Now that I’ve eaten chicken feet I’m worried that there’s not much left for me to experience in life. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, so I’ll back up to the days before I indulged in this delicacy.
Just after Christmas the five of us left for our annual trip to New York City to visit Aunt Lulu and Uncle P. In true Glamore fashion the week ended up being a series of exotic meals punctuated by other activities, some successful, some not. The first order of business was to arrange ourselves in the studio apartment, which was markedly easier a couple of years ago when the boys were smaller.
The apartment has a bed, which Bill and I share, and we’ve purchased a blowup mattress that Porter adores. Finn commandeers the sleeper sofa. You’d think that Drew could join him there, but both of them reject that idea. Apparently boys can’t sleep in the same bed after the age of six.
Sleeper sofa extended taking up the entire floor
Blow-up mattress arranged “rocketship” style; design by Porter Glamore (sofa cushions not included)
Fortunately, Drew has an affinity for small spaces, and sleeps on the floor in the space between the front and back of the sofa where the mattress and cushions stay when the sofa is in its usual state.
He claims it’s warm and snuggley down there.
We don’t know how he wedges himself in there, especially after a meal, but he does and we don’t hear from him again until morning.
Unless I bug him by trying to take a picture.
We can tell we’re aging, as this is what the bathroom has come to:
Deodorant and retainers galore.
One day I took our teenager downtown to look for cool threads while Bill took Drew and Porter to the Apple store and FAO Schwartz. They returned with some “new” toys they couldn’t get enough of. You heard it here first– the Rubik’s Cube is making a comeback, but now you can get on the computer and watch a YouTube video to learn how to solve it.
Meanwhile, the folks who thought up the hackysack have refashioned it by changing its shape and the rules. Voila, the myachi! Instead of gathering in a circle and listening to “Sugar Magnolia” while passing the hackysack, kids today hop on the subway and toss the myachi under their legs or across the seats to each other, being careful not to touch it with their palms. Setting your iPod on “I Kissed A Girl” is optional.
Crowd at FAO Schwartz watching the myachi dudes
Metrodad had given me some restaurant recommendations that we were thrilled to receive because I only let the boys repeat one restaurant from a previous trip. If you’re in the city and need a romantic spot to take a date, Alta would be a wonderful choice. Unfortunately, we had three boys with us, so Bill and I had to sneak in a romantic moment by sending them to the restroom to wash their hands and smooching at the table while they were gone. Although we had a good time with them, we would have had a better time at this particular restaurant without them, given its glowing candlelight, lovely wine list, and overall atmosphere that was more conducive to googly eyes than to breaking up paper football contests.
Alta is a tapas restaurant, and one of the weirder yet delicious dishes was Spaghetti Pepperoncini, Bottarga Di Muggine, dried bonito and shrimp oil and peppercress. We ordered it only because the waitress seemed like she might cry if we didn’t. We didn’t know what Bottarga Di Muggine was, and it sounded menacing, like the head of a crime family, not something you want to twirl on your fork and slurp with noodles. Now, with the benefit of google, I can tell you that it’s dried gray mullet roe, and it looked like thin slices of pink bubble gum perched atop the spaghetti. We loved it so much we ordered another serving. The spicy lamb meatballs were yummy, too.
Some things must be replaced from time to time, and underwear is one of them. The boys sat calmly inside Bloomingdale’s, eating pretzels and playing myachi while Bill and I bought him new underwear and undershirts. We had scarcely set foot in Victoria’s Secret, however, when they engaged in a group freakout, during which Porter slapped his hand over his face and said, “I can’t look while I’m in this store. This is maximum weirdness.” The teenager complained that he wouldn’t be caught dead in a panty shop, and only Drew tried to sneak a peek of the mannequins as we marched the boys to a quiet corner between the elevators and the flannel pajamas (lucky us–who knew?) and instructed them to face the wall and give us five minutes.
“Mom means give her five minutes, because I’m like you. I don’t know what we’re doing in this panty store,” Bill said.
He sat with the boys and discreetly pointed out underthings that caught his fancy, and I snatched them up and paid in record time. That didn’t prevent the guys from complaining about this particular stop for far longer than necessary.
One snowy morning we headed down to the lower east side and were captivated by Guss Pickles on Orchard Street. They had barrels of pickles of all varieties, quarter-sour, half-sour, and so forth. Bill was amused when a woman came up and ordered as if she were at Starbucks.
“I need a quart of half-sour with half half-sour juice and half full-sour juice,” she said.
“That’s quite a pickle order,” Bill said.
“Yeah, my dad loves them this way, and it’s his birthday, so I get them for him as a present,” she said.
We could only think of one person we know who’d be satisfied with a variety of pickles as a gift.
I looked down the street and saw a familiar sign that said “Kaufman,” and something stirred in the back of my mind, and I told the guys to continue eating pickles while I checked it out. Sure enough, it was A.W. Kaufman, a lingerie shop, and I had been there several times with my mom, years and years ago. I walked in and it was as if time had stopped. It’s a narrow space lined with plastic storage bins marked in black writing with brands and sizes: “La Perla 36 C.” I remembered sitting in the one folding chair while my mom tried on nightgowns and it was too much for me, and I cried hard by the counter near the robes. Miriam, who was running the store, got me water and claimed to remember my mom, but she was probably just being nice.
Everything else on the block was posh. Miriam said Fine & Klein, one of my mom’s purse stops, had gone out of business, and she was one of the oldest stores left.
We had other good meals– Italian, sushi, and pizzas. Pam Real Thai was a budget-friendly pre-theater restaurant, where we had crispy duck and crab fried rice, which was one of the highlights of the week. Appetizers, three entrees and drinks for all (including wine) was under $90.
I also insisted on picking up some food off the street one night, for reasons both budgetary and adventurous. That’s how Bill and I ended up leaving the boys in the apartment and walking to 53rd and 6th to pick up some chicken and lamb with rice. I’d read that this particular stand had some of the best street food in the city, and I was determined to sample it. As it turned out, the line down 53rd Street was over 100 people long when we arrived, so we didn’t just “pick it up.” Bill waited for over an hour, making calls and sending emails, while I walked around the block to stave off hypothermia.
That yellow umbrella in the distance is the Holy Grail.
We bought a bottle of wine and brought it all home and chowed down.
We ordered a mixture of lamb (the darker meat) and chicken. It came with rice (it looks like cheese here) and each container had one small piece of pita bread. We also got red and white sauce. It was yummy, although I preferred the lamb to the chicken. I’d recommend that someone purchasing this also buy some pita bread. We bought four containers of chicken and rice and that fed five of us for dinner, three of us for lunch and Porter for breakfast for two days. We still had some left over. At $6 per container, it was a deal.
I may have the only boys in Alabama who are enamored with chopsticks. I cook enough Asian meals that I figured we could invest in something nicer than the wooden ones they’ve stolen from the Japanese steakhouse. That’s how we ended up at Pearl River Mart, where each boy got to pick out his own pair of chopsticks. Porter’s are light blue, and Drew’s are black with a red stripe, and I haven’t washed the others yet. We’ll be using them tonight, though, as I’m whipping up Elise’s Sweet & Sour Chicken so they’re coming in handy already.
Every trip has its pitfalls, and sadly, ours was one we had been quite excited about. Metrodad suggested dim sum at Jing Fong, and we made our way to Chinatown and gave it a go. It was the boys’ first experience with dim sum, and they found some shrimp dumplings and fish balls and pork rolls, but everything was cold and tired. I think we hit the restaurant as they were transitioning from lunch to dinner, or else we didn’t know how to order, or maybe it just really isn’t very good. However, Jing Fong had some impressive chicken feet which were apparently fried and seasoned with five-spice powder. They looked exactly like you would think chicken feet would look:
I remember hearing that maybe chicken don’t have teeth, and I guess I was thinking that meant they’re short on all kinds of bones but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case with their feet. Those toes were crunchy and after I ate one I concluded I’d had enough roughage for an entire week even though I’ll be forty-two in less than two months. On the up side, the meal gave us good reason to say “Dim sum bad eats” for the rest of the day and giggle like maniacs.
New Year’s Eve was the high point. We cooked dinner at Aunt Lulu’s and hung out with her boys, one two and one two weeks old. A cold snap had settled over the city, and Bill and the boys were determined to run in the race sponsored by Emerald Nuts at midnight at Central Park. They’ve run the last two years, when it was relatively balmy out. Cheers to Bill, Finn and Drew for running four miles at midnight with a wind chill of 6. They reported that the champagne at mile two was the consistency of a slushy. Porter and I got in bed and ate chocolate. I didn’t photograph the runners because I didn’t want to lose my shutter finger to frostbite.
And that’s it. I apologize for the inadvertent blog silence. Both computers broke, the refrigerator broke, and I cannot blog on a Blackberry. I’m back up and running now.