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Archive for November, 2014

Books: Excerpt from Chelsea Berler’s ‘The Curious One’

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Chelsea Berler, The Curious One

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Chelsea Berler’s autobiographical book, “The Curious One: From Food Stamps to CEO — One Woman’s Journey through Struggle, Tragedy, Success and Love” [aff. link]. She is the founder and the chief executive officer of the Solamar Agency, a marketing firm in North Shelby County.

Berler discusses a moment of revelation in working on taxes and growing her young company.

• • •


“I’m not telling you it is going to be easy,
I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

— Art Williams

The Big Moment came when I was doing my taxes. I know, figuring out what number you have to write on that check to Uncle Sam is not usually the most exciting time in a person’s life. But for me, it was a huge moment, one that had major significance.

It was about 2 years ago. I was 27 years old, and I’d been running my own business, Solamar Agency, for about 5 years.

One of my very dear friends was our financial guy (and still is). He’d been with us the whole time. Since the beginning. But when we started out, we were really, really small. So while he was taking care of all the financial stuff for me, I never really thought much about it.

In fact, because I was so focused on serving my clients and my team and putting one foot in front of the other and just doing my work, I never really paid all that much attention to the reports he sent me at the end of every month, year after year. You know, those profit-and-loss statements with the numbers on it that explained just how much money we were making every month?

But then I got that one, life-changing year-end report. And it said my company made about $500,000 that year.

Me. At 27. Just made half a million dollars.

Wait a second … how did this happen?

I sat there and kind of stared at the number on the report, like it would suddenly make perfect sense to me if I looked at it long and hard enough.

Or maybe the “5” would suddenly turn into a “2” … or some other, more reasonable, number that made more sense to me.

But that didn’t happen. It wasn’t going to happen. Because as I sat there staring at the paper, it started to sink in.

Maybe it did make sense. Maybe it really was possible.

I thought back over the years I’d been running my business. Basically, what I’d been doing was working my tail off. I was going through a lot — I’d gotten my second divorce (yes, at 24—more on that later …) and the way I dealt with it was just by working, working, working.

That was pretty much my coping mechanism for any sort of problem that might come up in my life. I worked my way through it. It gave me something positive to do that distracted me from whatever was making me feel crappy at the time.

Not like I was super-ambitious or some major planner. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about my goals, or where the business was going, or even if the business was going. For me, the simple fact that I was getting some money at the end of the month after making payroll and paying all the other bills was like, “This is great.”

Eventually, I got over the divorce and met an incredible man. But I kept on working. It was the way I defined myself.

And looking at that report, and at the giant, massive, very grownup number on it, I realized what had been sneaking up on me for years.

All that work had paid off. I really did have a real business.

This was a real thing.

Maybe the fact that, right around the same time, we had opened up our first physical office could have provided a clue. Some sort of “Hey, progress is being made here” kind of message. But I never really equated opening the office with “success.” It was more about my lifestyle. I had been a hermit for such a long time, sitting at my computer in my house working, that basically, I just wanted to get out of the house. I wanted to have a place to go to work, and people to talk to when I got there. I’d been hiring people virtually for years, but I had started hiring people locally. And I needed a place to put those people …

I never expected it all to add up to half a million dollars. But suddenly, I realized that I did it. It happened.

And it was a pretty amazing moment.

I was flooded with all these feelings.

I finally felt like I had made something of myself.

Like I was part of something bigger than me.

Like I wanted to tell everyone to screw off.

I felt real.

It was the last place people (especially those people I wanted to tell to screw off) expected to find me.

And that’s maybe the biggest reason the whole $500K thing freaked me out. I grew up knowing, or thinking I knew, a pretty depressing fact. That not everything is possible.

Pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to grow up knowing, right?

I grew up in a very small town in North Dakota, with very little money and even fewer possibilities. Not that there was (or is) anything wrong with the town or the people in it. They made me who I am today. I love North Dakota, and I’ll be forever grateful for my roots.

But it’s just the kind of town where everybody knows everybody, and you get married and you stay there and you have kids and your kids stay there and everybody stays there forever and ever and ever.

I never, ever thought I would see another state, or even get out of my little town.

I had no idea how that would even be possible.

They have this one, very specific life path they teach you in school to help you succeed.

  1. You go to high school.
  2. You go to college, usually an in-state school.
  3. You become a teacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer.
  4. You come home and work and raise your family there.

It’s a perfectly great plan for people who want to be doctors or lawyers or teachers.

But that just didn’t feel like me.

Of course, like in every town big and small, there are also the dropouts that don’t go to college; they don’t even stay in high school. So they don’t do anything with themselves except maybe sit at the local bar.

I didn’t see myself as one of those people either.

And then there are the people who don’t go to college, but just have a bunch of cute babies and stay home and live on a family farm.

That’s where I figured I fit in. I always assumed I was going to end up married with kids in my hometown. That’s what most people like me did. Or pretty much what all people like me did. How could I think I was going to be any different?

The problem was, deep down inside, I felt different.

There was a part of me that was always rebelling against “the way things were.” I had these vague dreams of “arriving,” although where I was going to arrive, I wasn’t quite sure. Or wishing and hoping that I could create something lasting, not that I had any idea what that would be.

I just knew that I wasn’t like everybody else.

And in my town, in my world, that wasn’t exactly a comforting feeling. I was scared as hell that I would fail, that I wouldn’t have anything to show for myself and wouldn’t be able to create anything at all.

But that didn’t stop me from having visions of something different. Something bigger.

I just didn’t know what it would be.

Now, 20 years or so later, I do. Which, I guess, is why I’m writing this book.

As I write this, 2 years after that moment with my tax forms, my business is hovering right under the million-dollar mark.

And because I have reached this level of success, before turning 30, suddenly, I’m getting noticed. Suddenly, people look at me and think things like, “Oh, she is smart.” Or, “Oh, she does have something going on.”

Which makes me laugh, because they didn’t always feel that way!

I was the girl that didn’t fit the mold. That didn’t follow the path. How was I ever supposed to be successful if I didn’t conform and do what I was supposed to do?

But here’s the more important point: Maybe you feel like that, too.

Because a lot of people do.

Maybe no one ever told you that there’s a bigger world out there, and that you can not only get out in it and see it and be a part of it, but actually add something to it.

I know no one told me. I had to figure that part out on my own.

So I’m here to tell you that you do have options. I was a person who was born into a life where there didn’t seem to be a lot of options. But I had them — they just weren’t immediately visible.

And you have them, too. You really do.

Living a life that fits you and makes you happy, leaving your mark on the world even if you don’t exactly know what that mark will be, is possible.

You don’t have to do it their way.

You just have to find your way.

People might tell you you’re crazy. They might say what you want isn’t possible. They may — and this hurts — even tell you they don’t believe in you.

It doesn’t matter.

As long as you stay curious, and stay thirsty for more, and keep trying new things and reaching for new experiences, anything is possible. I know it is. Not only have I lived it, but I’m still living it today.

Sure, there are times when I think that I could lead an easier life: I could stop running all over the country, hang out with my husband and just have fun and relax. Maybe someday I will. But right now, I want more for myself.

And I also want more for people that haven’t had that opportunity to be curious.

Because if all this could happen for a girl from Scranton, N.D., it can happen to you, too.

Are you curious? Then come with me …

• • •

Chelsea Berler will hold a book signing for “The Curious One” from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at 2nd and Charles, 1705 Montgomery Highway, Hoover [map].

“The Curious One” (March 2014, self-published)

Chelsea Berler

#sundayread for Nov. 30, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014
teddy bear book

Photo: Laura Bernhardt (CC)

My picks for #sundayread for Nov. 30, 2014:

More posts from Wade this week:

The latest #sundayread tweets

santa’s second job

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

To make ends meet, St.
Nick delivers pizzas and
subs across Finland.

• • •

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Wade’s 101: Haiku retrospective 33

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

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  1. divided by perspective
    Who needs alternate
    universes? Damn alter-
    nate realities.
  2. someone stole all the magazines
    The waiting room had
    nothing to read, save for some
    pamphlets and blank forms.
  3. talk talk talk talk talk talk talk
    The faces emit
    chattering sounds in place of
    any kind of news.
  4. suspicious minds
    Conniving strangers.
    Or paranoia. Suspects
    and clues everywhere.
  5. the spelling of katz
    The “g” is silent,
    while the “ei” is pronounced
    “aye.” Is that so hard?
  6. putting us through our paces
    Walking becomes a
    statistic for the mainframes.
    They watch every step.
  7. inspiring words
    “The rent’s due today.”
    “The boss would like to see you.”
    “We’ve nothing to lose.”
  8. everyone sweats
    Picture of this guy
    sweating, this lady sweating,
    everyone sweating.
  9. the options of a consumer society
    Aisles of colors and
    sizes and brands and options
    to bloat the landfill.
  10. dali’s smartwatch
    His conception of
    time warped with the urgency
    of the text message.
  11. the last pitch
    The mascot danced in
    place. The ballboys collected
    their gear. The crowd stood.
  12. wages within
    The value of work
    rises and falls, not with the
    times but with the souls.
  13. a heads-down classroom
    Bored kids roll their eyes
    at the feast of knowledge, left
    to their devices.
  14. the no-boil death trap
    The microwave lies
    in wait for a pure liquid
    and countless minutes.
  15. the heaviest lifting
    Outrage is easy.
    But channeling it into
    action is better.
  16. the voices of eternal radio
    He spoke to unseen
    masses about unexplored
    ideas unbound.
  17. a storm delayed by atmospheric detours
    The rain should be here
    by 3 o’clock, then 4, but
    no later than 6.
  18. a trip to the doughnut shop
    Every case had pink
    and blue and brown and tan and
    frosted confections.
  19. remembering the crew of wwii
    He poured out a few
    ounces of Metamucil
    for his dead homies.
  20. sunsets unlimited
    The passing of fads,
    the withering of circles,
    more will take their place.
  21. the longest distance
    The longest distance
    is between the promise and
    the consummation.
  22. patriot acts
    Spying on our own
    citizens. Attacking non-
    violent protestors.
  23. paddle royale
    The oldest players
    in the world square off on the
    smallest court ever.
  24. the petty joys
    Letting doors close on
    an elevator. Snagging
    the last doughnut. Whee.
  25. hands like lightning
    Every time he clapped,
    a bug lost its wings, their flight
    grounded with applause.
  26. the next step
    The next step can be
    down the beach or off a cliff
    or back to safety.
  27. tickled by words
    Bon mots can make for
    guffaws and wide eyes, even
    chest thumps and re-reads.
  28. the patron saint of empires
    St. Sterling brought forth
    new commerce, and the people
    bankrupted themselves.
  29. some ones and super zeroes
    Binary problems:
    It works or it don’t; advance
    or remain in place.
  30. mother nature whispers
    She sends her regards
    for a resplendent autumn
    with a cooling breeze.
  31. all thumbs
    In the digital
    age, are we our devices
    or mere bags of flesh?
  32. a cut above
    She gave up her locks
    so others could cover their
    naked scalps with love.
  33. the publishers on strike
    The authors moved on
    to their Kindle singles and
    handcrafted ebooks.
  34. the stockbrokers’ almanac
    bullish, with periodic
    gusts of price fixing.
  35. the batman i know
    A billionaire with
    a strong work ethic and an
    insomniac’s bent.
  36. an unnatural smile
    The soul nor the lips
    were willing to take part of
    a facial charade.
  37. last chance for romance
    Intimacy led
    to contempt. They knew too much
    to ever go back.
  38. the empty coffin
    He faked his own death,
    but even worse, he faked his
    own life for nothing.
  39. abraham lincoln visits the future
    worked out well, but what’s with the
    expensive coffees?
  40. raining after work
    Inspiration passed
    my bus stop several times, but
    my ride never came.
  41. glory whole
    The hollow pursuit
    of fame befits its Gen Y
    gang of aspirants.
  42. gourd a more perfect union
    Pumpkin in my beer.
    Pumpkin in my coffee. Food
    mashups should be squashed.
  43. expediency in the working world
    Better to ask for
    forgiveness than to obtain
    permission before.
  44. streams of consciousnesses
    The flow of jumbled
    thoughts and half-truths sputtered to
    more nonstop drivel.
  45. the voyage to a new port
    He left the shore with
    no cares, sailing toward home with
    the promise of kin.
  46. slipping degrees
    A slight chill and a
    few goose bumps settle in as
    winter looms closer.
  47. no guilt, just pleasure
    How lovely are the
    simple sweets of our youth when
    shared over some tea?
  48. zombie or not zombie
    A nation forged by
    exhaustion, expectations
    and excesses. (Yawn!)
  49. mash note 404
    He declared his love
    in a beautiful text that
    was stuck in the cloud.
  50. sisterly city envy
    What they have, we want.
    What they struggle wi/we mock.
    What they do, we shun.
  51. the girl in the third row far left
    Her magnetic smile
    kept me going through the lulls
    and hiccups. Thank you.
  52. the essence of hope
    The last chocolate chip.
    The text message saying yes.
    The sun settling down.
  53. faces of dearth
    What is the correct
    emoji for “indifferent
    with a side of guile”?
  54. b and b and be
    The morning started
    with hot coffee, warm muffins
    and birds flying south.
  55. the insecure confessions
    They would reveal their
    disorders and bank accounts
    to faux confidantes.
  56. the orphaned lot
    The weeds had free reign
    till the suburban posse
    got them evicted.
  57. hills mountains crossings bluffs ridges biomes
    A strip mall can go
    practically anywhere with
    the right greased pockets.
  58. metaphysician, heal thyself
    What if all of the
    hypochondriacs are right
    and placebos kill?
  59. charms with every breath
    He would take the page
    and transform it into a
    symphony of speech.
  60. how much longer till candy and costumes?
    Children everywhere
    (and a few adults) gave up
    on sleep for tricks, treats.
  61. panic waits waits waits attacks
    You will be sitting
    quietly, when the earth shakes
    and the mind screams pain.
  62. the shadow of asclepius
    She took notes on the
    doctor’s notes and patient’s notes,
    all for paperwork.
  63. ask me anything
    Questions get answers.
    False assertions get steamed looks.
    Come ons get sly grins.
  64. breaking, the surface
    Nothing will ever
    be more important than how
    celebrities look.
  65. as if by magic
    The hurried touch-ups,
    the sweat and fret, it all seems
    as if by magic.
  66. squashed plans
    The Great Pumpkin will
    skip visits this year out of
    fear of ebola.
  67. the laziest weekend
    It begins with a
    24-hour nap and
    then another one.
  68. a sense of a sense of humor
    Eyebrow raised, smirk, smile,
    bigger smile, tiny laugh, a
    chuckle, belly laugh.
  69. it takes a cabal of strangers
    Ills of postmodern
    society can be traced
    to isolation.
  70. the sugariest treat of all
    Little did the ghouls
    expect a gallon of sweet
    tea poured in their sacks.
  71. the cracks
    Society runs
    as long as we overlook
    daily mistreatment.
  72. costume drama
    No one knows who you
    are, and yet everyone knows
    who you want to be.
  73. but everyone was thinking football
    Turkeys to stuff, fall
    festivals to run, sweaters
    to air, leaves to rake.
  74. the power of check boxes
    Mark a box, then one
    more. Fill in enough and you
    have democracy.
  75. the book on the nightstand
    The ideas on
    the pages collect dust while
    the reader keeps on.
  76. who will untangle the strings?
    Corruption and lies,
    theft and disenfranchisement,
    crimes left to crooks.
  77. annual down time
    The white blood cells tell
    the rest of the body to
    pack it in this week.
  78. more of the same
    Status quo as a
    platform and candidate wins
    even in harsh times.
  79. twenty-first century luddites
    Dial-up connection
    and a tendency toward
    manual gear shifts.
  80. a proper shade of despair
    She would stare at the
    broken moon and wonder if
    her piece had been claimed.
  81. the hyphen is a long series of distractions
    Games, humming, drinking,
    gossip, snacking, doodling, texts,
    reality shows.
  82. man vs. machine
    The last man in the
    world still had to think up an
    eight-letter password.
  83. limb from limb
    Soldiers come home in
    pieces, broken by bombs. We
    owe more than one day.
  84. what can’t be unseen
    Of all the world’s vast
    horrors, none offends more than
    willful ignorance.
  85. urban pictionary
    They captured rooftops
    and skylines for digital
    posterity’s sake.
  86. the feast almost at hand
    Get those waistbands loose
    and those jawbones warmed up for
    gluttonous gorging.
  87. pain without a face
    Not even a twitch
    betrayed the agony of
    brutal depression.
  88. almost midnight at the doughnut shop
    Clumps of teenagers
    dance, rap, tweet, giggle and fool
    around while in line.
  89. a representative will be with you momentarily
    A third of our lives
    is spent asleep, a third on
    the phone with support.
  90. huddled and cozy
    No bitter wind can
    strip warmth from this campfire
    as we gasp at stars.
  91. both liberating and alienating
    No one is thinking
    about you. And no one is
    thinking about you.
  92. inside time for rex
    The mutt padded in
    and plopped down on the kitchen
    floor, safe from the cold.
  93. the slice at the end of the meal
    Pie is good, pie is
    kind, pie doesn’t judge, pie gives
    joy, pie renews faith.
  94. head bugs on a king-size mattress
    His anxieties
    crept into bed with him and
    took all the blankets.
  95. the age of design and wonder
    Roaming vacuums clean
    our floors while Christmas lights flash
    in synch with Dokken.
  96. be less literal
    A wordy world of
    similes and metaphors
    slams into orbit.
  97. the rigors of turkey day
    Thankfulness, and then
    consumption. Slothfulness, then
    consumption again.
  98. oppression 101
    violence. Protests. Arrest? Trial.
    “Not guilty.” Repeat.
  99. so many thanks
    Do not struggle with
    gratitude but let it seep
    in with every breath.
  100. black friday remainders
    A 3 a.m. start
    puts you behind only by
    a day or two, tops.
  101. pistols in triple overtime
    Half the state would like
    to crush the other half and
    feeling’s mutual.

• • •

Bonus haiku in “To the nines: Wade on Birmingham’s ninth anniversary.”

Read more Wade’s 101.

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magnetic fridge poetry

Photo: Steve Johnson (CC)

Four Birmingham teams headed to state championships in Auburn

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Hoover, Clay-Chalkville, Pleasant Grove and Leeds have one final game next week

Clay-Chalkville beat Gardendale in the regular season on the
way to a perfect record and a 6A title fight against Saraland
next week.

In a football-crazed state, why not more football?

The 3-day binge of high school championships has expanded with two more games. The Alabama High School Athletic Association changed to a seven-classification system in January, sending the state’s 32 largest schools to 7A.

The Birmingham-area teams competing for state titles are Hoover, Clay-Chalkville, Pleasant Grove and Leeds. Hoover faces Prattville for the first 7A championship; the two teams won 11 of the last 12 6A titles.

Clay-Chalkville won the 6A title in 1999; the Cougars face Saraland making its first trip to the finals. Pleasant Grove also makes its first trip to the 5A finals, taking on St. Paul’s, which won the title in 2007. Leeds won the 3A title twice before moving up to 4A; the Green Wave faces three-time 4A champs Deshler.

The seven championship matches will kick off with an exhibition flag football game between Hewitt-Trussville and Lawrence County. The Unified Sports program, part of Special Olympics, puts students with mental disabilities with other athletes for competition and fun. The Alabama Special Olympics is helping put on the Wednesday afternoon game.

All Super Seven games take place Wednesday through Dec. 5 at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, airing on Fox 6.1 and 6.2 and streaming online. Tickets are $12 per day and available online.


  • 3:30 p.m.: Exhibition flag football: Hewitt-Trussville vs. Lawrence County
  • 7 p.m.: Class 7A – Prattville (11-2) vs. Hoover (11-2)


  • 11 a.m.: Class 3A – Dale County (14-0) vs. Madison Academy (13-1)
  • 3 p.m.: Class 1A – Maplesville (13-0) vs. Hubbertville (13-0)
  • 7 p.m.: Class 5A – St. Paul’s (14-0) vs. Pleasant Grove (12-2)

Dec. 5

  • 11 a.m.: Class 4A – Leeds (13-1) vs. Deshler (12-1)
  • 3 p.m.: Class 2A – Elba (14-0) vs. Fyffe (14-0)
  • 7 p.m.: Class 6A – Clay-Chalkville (14-0) vs. Saraland (13-1)

Super 7 / AHSAA

Christmas 2014: parades and tree lightings across Birmingham

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Squirrel - Homewood Christmas parade

This festive squirrel rides his motorcycle at
the annual Homewood Christmas parade.

Christmas parades and tree lightings will take place in more than two dozen cities across Jefferson and Shelby Counties. Take a look at the list to join in the free festivities …

Alabaster: parade with Noah Galloway as grand marshal, 10 a.m. Dec. 6, starts near Ernest McCarty Ford, 1471 First St. N. [map]

Bessemer: parade, 2 p.m. Dec. 13, starts at Debardeleben Park [map]

Birmingham: parade and tree lighting, 5-7 p.m. Tuesday; parade starts at Kelly Ingram Park [map], tree lighting at Linn Park [map]

Calera: parade, 6 p.m. Dec. 6, starts at National Guard, 1320 Eighth Ave. [map]

Center Point: parade, 11 a.m. Dec. 13, starts at Cathedral of the Cross, 1480 Center Point Pkwy. [map]

Chelsea: parade, 10 a.m. Dec. 20, starts at Chelsea Middle School, 2321 Shelby County 39 [map]

Clay: tree lighting, 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Cosby Lake Park [map]; parade, 3:30 p.m. Dec. 13, starts at Clay-Chalkville High School, 6623 Roe Chandler Road [map]

Columbiana: parade and tree lighting, 5:30 p.m. Thursday; parade starts at 7 p.m. at Main Street [map]

Gardendale: parade and tree lighting, 6-9 p.m. Thursday, starts at Mt. Olive Road [map]

Graysville: tree lighting, 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 246 S. Main St. [map]; parade, 10 a.m. Dec. 6, starts at North Main Street [map]

Helena: parade, 1 p.m. Dec. 6, starts at Helena Road [map]

Hoover: tree lighting, 5 p.m. Monday, City Hall, 100 Municipal Ln. [map]

Homewood: parade and tree lighting, 6 p.m. Dec. 9, City Hall, 2850 19th St. S. [map]; parade starts at 6:30 p.m. from the library, 1721 Oxmoor Road [map], then tree lighting at City Hall plaza

Irondale: parade and tree lighting, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 6, starts at Irondale Elementary School, 225 S. 16th St., ends with tree lighting at City Hall, 101 20th St. S. [map]

Leeds: parade, 7 p.m. Dec. 12, through downtown [map]

Midfield: parade and tree lighting, 10 a.m. Dec. 6, starts at Midfield Community Center [map]

Moody: parade, 5 p.m. Dec. 13, starts at Adesa, 804 Sollie Drive [map]

Mountain Brook: parade, 3 p.m. Dec. 7, starts at Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook Village [map]

Pelham: tree lighting, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Pelham Civic Complex, 500 Amphitheater Road [map]

Pinson: parade, 10 a.m. Dec. 6, starts at Pinson Valley High School, 6895 Alabama 75 [map]

Pleasant Grove: tree lighting, 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 501 Park Road [map]; parade, 9-11 a.m. Dec. 6, starts at CVS, 27 Park Road [map]

Trussville: parade and tree lighting, 3 p.m. Dec. 13, starts at Parkway Drive and Oak Street [map]

Vestavia Hills: tree lighting, 6-8 p.m. Dec 9, Vestavia Hills City Center, 700 Montgomery Highway [map]; parade, 2-4 p.m. Dec. 14, starts at Liberty Park Sports Complex, 4700 Sicard Hollow Road [map]

Vincent: parade, 6-8 p.m. Thursday, starts at Vincent Middle High School, 42505 Shelby County 25 [map]

Westover: parade, 10 a.m. Dec. 13, along Old U.S. 280 [map]

Wilton: parade, 10 a.m. Dec. 6, starts at Bible Baptist Church, 293 Stephens St. [map]

Video: Westover Christmas parade

Did we miss your town’s parade? Let us know in the comments.

black friday remainders

Friday, November 28th, 2014

A 3 a.m. start
puts you behind only by
a day or two, tops.

• • •

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Video: A tiny hamster shares Thanksgiving with friends.

Happy Thanksgiving! May your day be shared with loved ones in special hats.

tiny hamster Thanksgiving

so many thanks

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Do not struggle with
gratitude but let it seep
in with every breath.

• • •

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Q&A with UAB’s Rhodes Scholar Ameen Barghi

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Among the 32 Rhodes Scholars from the United States announced Monday was a UAB senior.

Ameen BarghiBirmingham’s Ameen Barghi will be part of the Class of 2015 spending the fall semester at the University of Oxford. A pool of 877 students applied for the scholarships. The Rhodes Trust picks 83 students from around the world each year.

UAB’s Neelaksh Varshney was a Rhodes Scholar in 2000 and Joshua Carpenter in 2012.

Barghi, 22, attended Oak Mountain High School. During his sophomore year there, he also volunteered at UAB Hospital.

His accomplishments include early admittance to UAB Medical School, enrollment in UAB Honors College’s Science and Technology Honors Program and the Collat School of Business Honors Program. He is a double major in neuroscience focusing on translational research.

Oh, and he has a 4.0 GPA.

Barghi answered a few questions by email before Thanksgiving break.

What are you looking forward to most next fall at Oxford?

Being around students who will be equally or more intellectually curious as myself. I’m really excited to be able to train at one of the oldest institutions in the world that still maintains a standard of academic excellence.

I read that you want to earn a medical degree and a doctoral degree. Do you plan to practice medicine, do research, a combination or something else?

It will definitely be a combination of patient care and research.

Why do you think the Rhodes committee selected you among hundreds of applicants?

Though all of the interviewees were exceptionally qualified, I think I may have just been the most passionate that day. It’s really a test of nerve, endurance and passion.

Where had you looked at for college, and what led you to UAB?

I looked at some state schools, considered a couple of the New England schools, but ultimately picked UAB for financial and academic reasons. I was accepted into their Early Medical School Acceptance Program (which guaranteed my spot at their medical school), so I had more leeway as an undergraduate.

What is the next big goal you’d like to accomplish?

My next big goal is to be able to experience as much as I can during my time at Oxford!

Video: 280 Living interview with Ameen Barghi

Ameen Barghi

oppression 101

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

violence. Protests. Arrest? Trial.
“Not guilty.” Repeat.

• • •

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the rigors of turkey day

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Thankfulness, and then
consumption. Slothfulness, then
consumption again.

• • •

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The Birmingham channel: Making it in the Magic City

Monday, November 24th, 2014

A look at Birmingham in videos …

“The Fat Man,” by Foxxy Fatts and Company. Fatts, who died last week, was a Birmingham drummer and member of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. From Rendell Eccleston.

Tim Alexander, former UAB player, address the Birmingham city council about saving the football program. From First Missionary Baptist Church.

Made in the Magic City promo for its $30,000 Kickstarter fund-raiser to make documentary films. From Ryan Kindahl.

Students and faculty share message of individuality. From Muscle Shoals Middle School.

Freestylin’. From ahagood44.

Postal workers’ protest at the downtown post office. From al.com.

Highlight reel for Briarwood Christian’s quarterback William Gray. From Brad Gray.

Driving through the streets of Birmingham. From Storm.

The Red Bus Project stops by UAB to raise money for orphans. From redbusproject.

“Love, Me” by Max T. Barnes at Iron City. From Warren Callaway.

At the Blackberry Smoke show at the Alabama Theatre: “2 girls that had been sitting next to me ran up on stage.” From dave911.

Girl Scout Troop 600 collecting new items for nonprofit group Three Hots and a Cot. From Kari Whitaker.

French hip-hop dancer Laurent Bourgeois of Les Twins leads a class at the YMCA Youth Center downtown. From selinay seven.

The first U.S. bachelor herd of African elephants. From the Birmingham Zoo.


“Just because my family is shooting a fireworks show at The Club tonight. And it still gets my adrenaline going knowing what kind of work the crew put in today to make this happen. I was standing in my bedroom watching.” From lisamgray818.

Brooksy on the swing. From bicycler4life.

See a trailer for the music documentary “Muscle Shoals.”

See dogs audition for “The Mutt-cracker.”

• • •

Send us links to your videos. | More videos on the Birmingham channel.

be less literal

Monday, November 24th, 2014

A wordy world of
similes and metaphors
slams into orbit.

• • •

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Books: Excerpt from Carrie Rollwagen’s ‘The Localist’

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
Carrie Rollwagen, The Localist

Photo: Cary Norton

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Carrie Rollwagen’s new book, “The Localist” [aff. link]. She is co-owner of Church Street Coffee and Books, a copywriter and fellow blogger. I featured my friend Carrie in my first book, “The Social Media Stars of Birmingham.”

She discusses the new economic reality, the power of corporations and the importance of shopping locally.

• • •

Neon Jelly Bracelets, Big Hair and the American Dream

I’m a child of the ’80s, and as a kid, I really bought into everything the decade stood for: the commercialism and capitalism and neon, but also this crystallization of the American Dream, this sense that things could keep getting better and people would keep getting richer, and the only thing I had to do to be part of that success was to keep striving and fighting and working hard.

I started giving up on unlimited financial success a few years ago for religious reasons (Jesus would’ve made a terrible stockbroker), but anyone who didn’t have that same epiphany was forced out of their Reagan goggles anyway when our national — and global — economy collapsed. We haven’t hit Depression and Dust Bowl levels of poverty, but we aren’t doing so great either. Lots of people lost their jobs and couldn’t find new ones. Lots of people had to downsize and give up their houses and cars and dreams when their credit collapsed. Lots of people worked really hard and gave their bootstraps a really good tug and landed on the wrong side of a welfare line anyway.

News outlets love to broadcast about the financial meltdown, and bloggers like to write about how they’re affected by it. Every generation seems to think it’s got the best claim on being the worst treated by the economic collapse: The Greatest Generation saw its pensions and investments disappear. Baby boomers expect to lose social security and say goodbye to early retirement. Generations X and Y can’t advance in our jobs and don’t know what to do if we lose them. And Millennials grew up expecting financial security that may never materialize. We all have valid reasons for feeling tricked. But maybe it’s time we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves.

The financial collapse wasn’t something most of us, regardless of generation, expected. But maybe we should have. Economic systems naturally rise and fall, and it’s never wise to think their positive momentum will continue forever. For some reason, we all ignored that, and we set up our lives as if we’d only get more prosperous and hard times would never come and we’d become progressively richer and happier forever. We were living our lives like we were in an ’80s music video, where the music was loud and the hair was big and the bad times would be as short as the skirts. It’s a lot of fun to think that way. It’s why I liked to think that way as a little kid.

But maybe it’s time we grow up. Maybe we should admit to ourselves that life is full of ups and downs and to start looking at prosperity, at least partially, as a chance to save up for hard times ahead. We’ve been trained to think growing up is the worst thing of all, but I’m thinking maybe it isn’t. Acting like an adult can suck, but it can also be really exciting and freeing. It can also help us mature into people that we like being, developing personalities and economies that grow out of our choices instead of the choices that are made for us. Being less naïve and selfish with our finances and, instead, opening our eyes for the good of our community, and even our country, might just make our lives better, safer, and more of a stable place to land. Is creating that kind of world, that kind of economy, a lot of responsibility? Sure. But it could also be pretty incredible.

The things we dreamt about in the ’80s aren’t necessarily naïve or unreasonable (okay, maybe flying cars were). In general, it’s okay to want prosperity for our country. It’s okay to hope our government can provide for things like building interstates and defending us in a war. It’s understandable to want good, safe neighborhoods for our kids to grow up in. And it’s okay to be patriotic, to want a strong nation. But to do that, we need money in our budgets, both local and national. We need an economic system that rewards innovation and creativity. We need to understand what our money does, and how it can help.

It’s no wonder we have a tough time grasping these issues of global finance and macroeconomics when we don’t even have a clear understanding of microeconomics, or even of personal finance. We know how to spend money, but that’s about where our comprehension ends. Most of us don’t even see a real connection between how much we earn and how much we spend — hence our dependence on credit — so how can we be expected to have a grasp on higher economics and how they effect our communities, our states or our country? The good news is, these issues aren’t really complicated; the math involved is pretty much on the elementary school level: The more money we give our local shops, the more we keep in our communities; and the more we give big box stores, the more we lose. The way we spend our money makes a difference. It’s our right, and maybe our responsibility, to be sure we spend it well.

What Came First, the Chicken or the Boycott?

Some families aren’t allowed to talk about religion and politics at the dinner table, but in my house we weren’t encouraged to talk about much else. (I’m guessing that’s unsurprising if you’ve read this far.) We were like the Kennedys, if the Kennedys were working class Midwesterners who quoted Bible verses instead of philosophers. My dad felt that important subjects were the only ones worth talking about, so politics and religion were at the top of his conversation list. Dad might not be the most inoffensive choice for a dinner party invite, but he’s right about one thing: At its root, politics is personal. Our laws and lawmakers effect real people every day, and the fact that we see politics as more of a sport or a circus is both a symptom of our political mess and part of the problem itself.

Maybe we can’t stop corporations from becoming a part of our political process, but we can “vote” with our money when we agree or disagree with what they do. When we know a company treats its workers badly or supports a cause we’re against, we have a responsibility to stop buying from them. Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A have a few things in common: They’re both owned by Christians, they’re both closed on Sundays, and they’ve both been boycotted in the last couple of years, not for closing on Sundays (although I’ve known some waffle fry devotees who’ve gone almost that far), but for putting money and company policy behind controversial political issues.

Hobby Lobby sued to win the right to avoid funding certain types of birth control (particularly the types which the company’s leadership feel are not contraception but early abortion) for their employees. Chick-fil-A executives were shown to be funding organizations that created and distributed anti-gay propaganda. The Chick-fil-A story is so interesting not just because of the boycott that started when people found out that the nugget money was going toward “re-education,” but also because of the “buy-cott” that sprung up in response when Chick-fil-A supporters headed to the fast food restaurant in droves to prove through purchasing that they supported Chick-fil-A and its chosen stance.

The issues at play in the Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A examples — abortion, contraception and gay rights — are complex and polarizing. What’s clear is, when we spend money at these businesses, we’re supporting more than crochet supplies, glue guns and chicken biscuits. When we buy things we’re putting money behind the causes the business supports. That means we have an obligation to use our purchasing power to support the things we believe in and to withhold our money from companies that we disagree with. Treating individuals (or corporations) who exercise their free speech differently is not the job of the government — but it is our job as citizens and as consumers. If you’re pro-choice, it’s hypocritical to buy yarn from Hobby Lobby, and if you support gay rights, it’s best to learn to live without the waffle fries. That’s how we exercise our free speech as individuals. That’s how we send messages to the companies we do business with — in the language of money, the only language they understand.

‘We have an obligation to use
our purchasing power to support
the things we believe in and to
withhold our money from
companies that we disagree with.’

This goes beyond companies who take religious or political stances. We can also financially punish companies that engage in deceptive practices, that treat their employees badly, that serve food they know is unhealthy. When we disagree, it makes sense to boycott a certain company and its parent corporation.

Sometimes, of course, this is easier said than done. It may not be practical (or even possible) to boycott huge companies like Kraft or Apple or to avoid repeat offender Monsanto. When we take stands like this, it can feel like we’re throwing pebbles at a giant without even having a decent slingshot on our side. (All our slingshots are made of cheap plastic in China now, so they’re not likely to stand up to a good giant-slaying anyway.) But this idea that our purchases don’t matter is just a lie. Even the small spending is meaningful. Even the waffle fries make a difference. We may not be able to avoid buying from big box stores or from offensive corporations all of the time, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t avoid buying from them when we know about their abuses. Big corporations have the power to destroy other people, to influence public policy, and to put local shops out of business only because we don’t speak out against them, either with our speech or with our money. That silence is hurting us, and it’s a problem we have the power to stop.

Corporations Are(n’t) People, Too: Politics, Power and Personhood

Some people say Americans have loud mouths. (By some people, I mean the rest of the world.) Freedom of speech is pretty important to us, and we exercise it often, both for big and important things like political debates and for silly things like blogging about the Kardashians. With few restrictions, we can pretty much say whatever we want. Ideally, we combine our freedom of speech with the responsibility to use it wisely, but even when we don’t, we’re still protected. Our liberty makes us annoying sometimes, but it also makes us powerful and free.

Unfortunately, our Supreme Court has cheapened our freedom of speech with a bad decision in the Citizens United case, allowing corporations to give money to political candidates in the name of free speech. This ruling manages to slap us twice, equating corporations with people and giving money the same considerations as speech. Now the battle for what’s important about our humanity is being fought, not just in the corporate boardroom, but in the courtroom as well. Somehow, the same court that can’t decide conclusively when a fetus becomes a person has decided to give Fortune 500 companies that title.

Treating corporations as people and money as speech is more than creepy. (Although it certainly is that — clearly, the justices don’t read science fiction, or they’d know that personifying inanimate objects and monetary systems leads to some pretty nasty business.) Equating a business to a human life cheapens our humanity. This isn’t just semantics: Elevating a business to the level of a person sends the message that corporate needs are just as important as a person’s, and they certainly are not.

Corporations are not people. They don’t breathe, love, create or feel. We should reject Citizens United not just because of common sense, but also because corporate decisions are made, not with reason, but with money. Publicly traded corporations are legally obligated to report to and to produce profits for their shareholders. The system is rigged at its foundation to favor money above all, and a system like that shouldn’t have a voice in our political process. Money may be the language that corporations speak, but equating it with actual, literal speech and giving it the same freedoms is dangerous. It sets us up to be a country where people who have wealth have more voice, are more likely to be listened to, and are more likely to be taken seriously. That’s exactly the kind of country our founders escaped and tried to avoid becoming. We should not let the “we the people” that’s so important and unique to us to be turned into “we, the Walmarts and the Microsofts and the Amazons.”

When the government decided certain entities were too big to fail, they also made them seem too protected to be opposed by consumers. This led to an outpouring of rage known as the Occupy Wall Street movement, which saw people camping out for weeks in protest of big banks and big business. It’s easy to see what attracted these protesters, and it’s not just the Woodstock-like mix of anarchy, peace and love that seemed to develop through the weeks.

Our system, to put it mildly, is pretty messed up, and corporations gaining political influence without public transparency through the political action committees protected by Citizens United is just the beginning: Big money strong-arms our political system to the point that our individual voices feel irrelevant, and banks and corporations are not held accountable for the laws they break or the lives they destroy. Corporations inexplicably avoid prosecution when they hire illegal and immigrant labor, but individual families of immigrants seeking the American dream are torn apart and punished for our demand for cheap products and cheap labor. And a nationwide recession left almost every family struggling to get by.

On its own, shopping small won’t solve our most complicated political problems, but it might bring us closer together as communities, and it’s likely that unity would raise the current level of political discourse, creating a more civilized conversation that would help us find better solutions to our problems. Shopping locally would empower us and put more money into our local governments. It might just make us a more thoughtful people: a people who understand more about our communities. And that could put us in a better position for solving our problems and for building a better country.

The Citizens United ruling attacks America, it undermines what it means to be an American, and it chips away at our very humanity. But we can still make a stand, and we don’t even need to hang out on sidewalks with picket signs to do it. Wall Street has our money because we give it to them, and that’s something we can stop, or at least slow down, immediately. To really change Wall Street, we have to stop occupying Walmart. With our money, we can tell businesses that being a person — a real one — still matters.

• • •

Carrie Rollwagen will hold a book signing for “The Localist” from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Church Street Coffee and Books, 81 Church St., Mountain Book [map]. She will have giveaways to mark the book’s debut and Shop Small Saturday.

She will have a book launch party from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Nest, 130 41st St. S., Ste. 101, Avondale [map]. The event will include free beer from Avondale Brewing Company.

For more information, visit Carrie’s events page.

“The Localist” (Nov. 2014, self-published)

Carrie Rollwagen