Day Trip to Unclaimed Baggage

A couple of my kids are great thrift-store shoppers, so I took them to the thrift-store mecca Unclaimed Baggage Center. This huge store in Scottsboro, Alabama, is where unclaimed bags and cargo from all over the country eventually end up.

“You never know what you’ll find,” is the logo of this store. It’s an understatement. We found (among too many things to list) David Yurman jewelry, a glittery ice-skating dress, hundreds of sunglasses, an Escada jacket, Tag Heuer watches, a Gucci dress, lots of Michael Kors handbags, a men’s Givenchy cashmere coat that was one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I’ve ever seen, furs, Burberry trench coats, Beats headphones, iPads, iPhones, Kindle Fire tablets, MacBook air computers, wedding dresses, camping equipment and soccer jerseys. Ironically, or maybe not, there were lots of suitcases, too.

We bought:  Two Kindle tablets, Ray-Ban sunglasses (aviators and Wayfarers) with cases, a soccer jersey from Burkina Faso, a men’s Levi’s denim jacket, a few sweaters, men’s dress socks, two 90s-era windbreakers and a pair of Adidas hightop sneakers that were so ugly they were beyond cool. We spent less than $250.

In business since 1970, Unclaimed Baggage is one of Alabama’s top tourist destinations. It’s been featured on NBC’s Today show, in The New York Times and in Smithsonian magazine. There’s a cafe in the store (serving Starbuck’s coffee) if you need a little space in the 40,000-square-foot store (which covers more than a city block).

According to the company’s website, they’ve opened luggage to find:  a Versace gown straight from the runway, a full suit of armor (replica), a Las Vegas showgirl costume (not a replica), a 5.8 carat diamond packed in a sock, a 40.95-carat natural emerald, a platinum Rolex worth more than $60,000, a bearskin packed in salt, a camera from the Space Shuttle (which they gave back to NASA), a live rattlesnake, an ancient Egyptian burial mask, a Limoges vase (it sold for $80 and later was appraised at $18,000) a painting that sold for $60 that actually was worth $25,000 and a missile-guidance system for a fighter jet (which they returned to the Air Force).

In 2016, Unclaimed Baggage earned the Alabama Retailer of the Year Gold Award. The store is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.. It’s closed on Sunday.

Unclaimed Baggage is about two hours from Birmingham and is worth the drive. Especially if you make it a day and have lunch at 50 Taters.


This casual restaurant features all sorts of comfort food. You can’t go wrong with the fried catfish here, and the stuffed baked potatoes (we filled ours with pulled pork) are huge and delicious.


Tips for shopping at Unclaimed Baggage Center:  Go in with a set amount of money and spend just that. You will be tempted to spend more. You can call ahead and reserve time with a personal shopper. In any case, do stop by the customer service area for a map of the place. And be sure to spend some time in the smaller store called Etc. This is where the biggest bargains live (including lots of stuff for kids). Also, this is where the famous hourly “Roll-Outs” happen.



Art Lessons with Beverly Erdreich

I had long been a fan of Alabama artist Beverly Erdreich when I got an assignment to interview her. Funny how things work out that way.

This was for the first issue of Portico Mountain Book, and while this happened a while ago, I’d still like to share the story. You’ll need to scroll to page 54, but I hope you do.

Beverly is known for her beautiful abstracts,

Unmapped Journey by Beverly Erdreich

but a several years ago she started painting differently.

She told me she had always been most intrigued by abstraction but then the wider world invaded her quiet, light-dazzled studio in Mountain Brook, Alabama, and made her look far beyond her treehouse-view of the surrounding woods. Her art took a decidedly different turn with pointed emphasis on subjects like school shootings and AIDS and war and religious turmoil. The result was Metaphor Boxes and Drawings, which depicts some of the most important social and political issues in our modern world in handmade boxes full of found objects and her art.

Beverly told me that working on the box project was cathartic for her. “The point was not really to make a statement about (the issues) but to make people think about things and come to their own conclusions.”

After that she created a self-published children’s book made especially for her own grandchildren. She said it was the hardest thing he had ever done. “I didn’t know the first thing about how to merge illustrations with text. It made painting look really easy.”

The Line That Learned a Lesson began with a Line that wanted to write the names of Erdreich’s granddaughters, but some of the letters in those names required that the inflexible Line learn to bend.

“The Line is, by nature, ridged,” Erdreich said. “But then there are all these things it wants to do but can’t because it won’t bend. We can’t expand and learn new things if we can’t change. The Line ends up finding out it can change but still be true to oneself.”


Dinner at My House: Put an Egg In It

We made Melissa Clark‘s shakshuka from the New York Times Cooking website all fall, and this North African dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce had become my go-to. Wanting to change things up a bit, I decided upon the Southern Italian version of this, Eggs in Purgatory. Then I got sidetracked by Ande ki Kari, the Indian version of eggs in a spicy tomato sauce.

This recipe, also by Melissa Clark (love her!) on the Times Cooking website is a winner. It doesn’t take too long to put together, and the house smells heavenly while you do.


Tip:  I peel my ginger with a spoon; it takes just the skin, leaving more of the ginger behind. Also, Melissa says you can make the eggs and the sauce the day before and put it all together at the last minute. I served it with some rice to lengthen it a bit.

I did use canned tomato puree since that’s what I had on hand, and fresh tomatoes this time of year are … well … awful. Just one woman’s opinion.

Here’s how it all came together for us:



Fox 6 Books: January

Here are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6‘s Good Day Alabama on January 2.

MissingThe_PBThe Missing (William MorrowIn this twisty thriller by C.L Taylormade highly intriguing by an unreliable narrator, a teenager goes missing from a family with lots of damaging secrets. The story is told from the perspective of Claire Wilkinson, who is sure that her missing 15-year-old son, Billy, is still alive somewhere. Each member of Billy’s family feels guilty in some way for his disappearance, but are they really to blame?





Book Cover Updated (1)White Girl in Yoga Pants: Stories of Yoga, Feminism, & Inner Strength (self published)  Melissa Scott’s series of smart, authentic essays are mostly about yoga but really about much more—body image, social media, the beauty of being strong, racism, violence against women, friendships, diversity, and the current political climate. Scott understands firsthand how yoga can change lives and bring people together.





The Rules of MagicRules-of-Magic.jpg (Simon & Schuster) Alice Hoffman’s millions of fans are pretty happy right now. Her highly anticipated newest book is the prequel to her 1995 bestseller, Practical Magic (which was made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman). Readers of that book will remember that the Owens family’s troubles began in 1620 when Maria Owens was charged with witchcraft. Now, hundreds of years later, her descendants struggle with a curse against anyone who falls in love with a member of the family.




9781101911532The Stranger in the Woods (KnopfThe subtitle of Michael L. Finkel‘s book is The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, and this book combines science, travel, and psychology in a strange, personal story like none other. In 1983, a smart, shy young man named Christopher Knight left his family’s home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the woods. For 27 years, he lived in a tent (even through the incredibly harsh winters) figuring out ingenious ways to stay alive.





I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.


Alabama Eats: The Bright Star

A Brighter Star

Alabama’s oldest restaurant, The Bright Star in Bessemer, is looking a little brighter these days.

First know that this restaurant is a real treasure. I’m not just referring to the delicious Southern (and Greek) food there. The hand-painted murals in the main dining room have been restored recently to the kind of bright, shining glory that Bright Star diners haven’t seen in decades.

The famous murals were painted more than 100 years ago by an itinerate artist in exchange for food and lodging.

See my story about The Bright Star in Alabama NewsCenter

Then go see the murals for yourself. If you are a first-time diner at The Bright Star you get a complimentary cup of their amazing gumbo!

View from Notre-Dame’s Towers

The awesomely grotesque chimeras (including the famous le Stryge) high above Paris were a few of the rewards for climbing the more than 400 twisty, corkscrew steps all the way up to the belfry of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral

There are safety nets everywhere you look, but there also are little holes in these nets–just the right size for your hand and an iPhone.

Chimeras adorn the sides of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Tip:  You’ll need to get a free ticket with a specific time for entry, and you’ll do that near the north tower, around the corner from the main entrance. There’s a kiosk onsite for this, or you can use your smartphone while you sip wine at a nearby cafe.

Recent Reads: Five-Carat Soul

Five-Carat Soul (Riverhead Books) by James McBride was one of President Obama’s favorite books from 2017. I enjoyed it, too, and included it in my book recommendations on WBRC Fox 6 in December.

This is the first new fiction from McBride since his National Book Award-winning historical novel, The Good Lord Bird, which was about John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry.

Five-Carat Soul is a collection of never-before-published short stories about race and identity and history and understanding. Fans will recognize McBride’s insightful, humorous style and his ability to create remarkably lifelike characters.

These stories are all over the place. Consider the antiques dealer who discovers a legendary toy commissioned by General Robert E. Lee in the home of a black minister in Queens. In another story, an American president gets inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable.  Then there are the highly entertaining stories from members of The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band. McBride was at The Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham not long ago. You might still find some signed first editions there of this book or McBride’s Kill ‘Em and Leave:  Searching for the Real James Brown and the American Soul or The Color of Water or The Good Lord Bird.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.

Dinner at My House: Black Bean Soup

Julia Moskin’s Best Black Bean Soup from the New York Times Cooking website is a winner. I’ve made a lot of black bean soups over the years, and, in my opinion, this really is “the best.” My family thinks so, too.

Here’s the link to this awesome recipe.

I didn’t have time to go to my local Hispanic market, Mi Pueblo, so I grated some lime zest and added it to sour cream with a little lime juice for my Mexican crema. We added the extra pureed chipotle chiles in adobo to the finished soup for a bit more heat. And some of us—the more daring of us—just scooped it onto tortilla chips.

The ingredients are simple, the flavor is awesome.

10 Things I Learned as Mother of the Bride

1. Open a dedicated checking account. Our daughter made a budget (with extra money for unexpected expenditures), and we opened a checking account with that amount. She was great about keeping up with everything on a spreadsheet, and she and her husband-to-be could spend the money as they wanted–and keep what was left over!

View More: You need a wedding planner. These people coordinate weddings for a living. You probably do not. Even if you are a great hostess with amazing ideas and skills, you need someone else to make it all happen as easily as possible. We hired Jayna Goedecke, of Jayna Goedecke Designs, for the month of the wedding, and she was absolutely amazing. Her day-of schedule was seamless. An hour before the wedding, she oversaw moving the reception indoors, and all I had to do was stand back and watch it happen. That alone was worth every penny.

3. Trust your vendors. Give them direction, sure. Pinterest pages are perfect for this! But then, trust them to make your vision happen. That’s their job. We asked Jessica Morris at Hothouse Design Studio for rich colors and texture and got bouquets with pink roses, burgundy dahlias, succulents and olive branches; gorgeous mirrored lanterns next to weathered driftwood; and beautiful, loose arrangements in silver goblets and baskets made of kudzu vines by an artist from Alabama’s Blackbelt region. 

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We wanted Southern dishes to reflect food traditions from our town (Birmingham, AL) and Will’s hometown (Shreveport, LA). Our caterer, Kay Bruno Reed, owner of Everything IZ, came up with a beautiful and delicious menu of oyster po’boys, black-eyed pea hummus with cornbread crackers, and roasted Gulf shrimp with McEwen & Sons grit cakes. She even put together a biscuit bar with hot chicken, barbecue pulled pork and bourbon cane syrup. Roasted duck and gnocchi dumplings were a fancy version of chicken and dumplings. Laura Wilkerson Photography captured the special day perfectly. She even took photos of folk art in our home (where the girls got dressed).

Mary Jane Clements of Makeup Mary Jane made us all look great with fabulous up-dos and lots of false eyelashes. View More:

4. Start with shoes. This is going to be a big (long) day for everyone … including the MOB. Both Allison and I  shopped for our shoes (comfortable ones!!) before even looking at dresses.

5. Encourage the groom’s family to match. This happened with us quite by accident, but looking at the photos, we saw that the groom’s family ended up in various shades of blue and purple and black. They looked stunning together.

View More: Fun gifts. Spend a little extra money, if possible, on an unusual, fun gift. We rolled various colored pashminas with a little tag that read:  “It’s a Wrap! Thanks for joining us! Love, Allison and Will” Then we placed them in big baskets around the venue. They were a huge hit! Even some of the men took a few.

7. Song requests. We asked on the response cards, “What song will get you out on the dance floor?”  Then throughout the night DJ Divine called people by name when he played their songs. It was a great way to keep everyone engaged.

View More: Make your own rules. Instead of a big, fancy wedding cake, the couple had a beautiful little “naked” cutting cake, baked by IZ, and lots of bite-size pies from Pie Lab, which is in Greensboro, Alabama. The pies, especially the brown-sugar buttermilk, went quickly! Also, my daughter bought her dress at David’s Bridal because she found one there that she loved. It looked beautiful on her, and our tailor made it fit perfectly.  Some people were taken aback that she didn’t buy from a high-end boutique, but she figured she would only wear it once and wanted to spend more money on other things. 

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9. Enjoy what the day brings. Allison’s outdoor wedding at Vulcan Park & Museum had an uninvited guest:  Hurricane Nate showed up during the reception. We already had moved most everything inside and put the DJ under cover. When the rain started, DJ Divine kept playing, and one bridesmaid walked out into the rain and started dancing. That’s all it took! The rain photos were amazing, and the wedding suddenly became very memorable.

The wedding party. Check out the looks on the guys’ faces!

10. Know that nothing’s ever perfect. Something will go wrong or, at least, not quite as planned. There might even be a hurricane. Look around at all the special people who have gathered to enjoy the day with you. Then take a deep breath and move forward. Enjoy yourself! At this point, you’re entitled to that, too.

Here are all our wonderful vendors:

Jayna Goedecke, Jayna Goedecke Designs

Jessica Morris, Hothouse Design Studio

Kay Bruno Reed, Everything IZ

Mary Jane Clements, Makeup Mary Jane

Pie Lab in Greensboro, AL

DJ Divine 

Vulcan Park & Museum 


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Chicago in About 48 Hours


Chicago in fewer than 48 hours still is exciting. Here’s how:

Lunch at The Purple Pig (a James Beard Award-winner). An afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s the second-largest art museum in the U.S. It was hard to walk away from Monet’s Wheatstacks in any season. Dinner at Sepia. They do amazing things with okra here:  The seeds were scraped out and picked and the pods julienned and flash-fried. That’s a rose made of orange rind floating in my delicious drink. Spend a few hours in the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center.


Brunch at La Sirena Clandestina. It’s Brazilian and in Fulton Market. You can walk there and back from downtown (partially along the lovely Riverwalk). Find your way into a tall building for the view. Walk around the city and look at the cool bridges and stop in at the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum to learn about what you’re seeing. A visit to Millennium Park and Cloud Gate (aka The Bean). There’s no better place for a selfie with your sweetie.


Breakfast at Eggy’s Diner. An architectural river tour with Shoreline Sightseeing. Look closely in the photo below, top left. That’s our tour boat reflected in the building.


Chicago. Somewhat done.

Maybe I need to go back.