Hand-sewn masks

Back in mid-January, we got two weeks’ worth of pasta, beans and canned tomatoes. For Valentine’s Day, I gave my kids the usual heart-shaped box of chocolates along with some disinfecting wipes and their choice of lavender- or lemon-scented spray hand sanitizer. I thought I was prepared.

But then masks.

photo from WBAP.com

It is nearly impossible to get them now, so I decided to make them. I started with the New York Times’ pattern, which took a while. I made one with that. Next, I moved on to an easier pattern with a pocket for a filter from See Kate Sew.

But now, even fabric is hard to come by. I placed an order with JoAnn only to get one email after another saying, “Uh oh! Items from your order have been canceled.”

Then I came across this blog post from Free People about repurposing old clothing into homemade face masks.

That post was inspired by Becky Vieira, a super mom who created the website Masks For Heroes — pretty much overnight — in an effort to streamline support for making and acquiring masks, surgical grade and fabric alike.

As Becky says: “While cloth masks don’t offer full protection when dealing with COVID-19 patients, they serve other purposes: patients with less aggressive symptoms can wear them, freeing up Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers, or they can be used as a covering for used N95 masks since, in some cases, many health care workers are having to reuse the same mask for up to five days.”

Visit Becky’s site to find an easy pattern as well as a list of nearby medical facilities in need of masks. In Alabama, Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Southern Family Health in Columbiana and Cahaba Medical Care in Centerville are listed.

Closer to home, there’s the Facebook group bham face masks. They are making masks by the thousands and offer practice tips and troubleshooting for participants.

The mask from the Free People blog is super easy. This DIY hand-sewn mask is made with elastic hair ties and whatever fabric you have around the house … even, perhaps, a shirt or skirt you no longer wear.

DIY Hand-Sewn Mask

You’ll need:

Needle & thread (or sewing machine if you have one)

Two elastic bands 

One 10-by-18-inch piece of new or freshly-washed fabric 

*NOTE: Most departments of health suggest that masks be made from two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton fabric.

Begin by folding your fabric in half along its longer edge, so that it measures 5 x 9 inches. Make sure that, if your fabric has a pattern, the pattern is on the inside. 

Take your needle and thread and sew along the long, open side of the fabric (a simple running stitch will work). You’re essentially creating a small tube, with two openings on each of the shorter sides.

Once sewn, turn the fabric inside out so that the stitches sit on the inside.

Take an elastic band and insert it around the cloth on the short side. Fold about 1” of cloth over the rubber band and sew along the length of that side, making a casing for the band so it fits securely in place. Repeat for the other side and, voila! You’ve made a mask! And best of all, you’ve played a definitive part in helping to safeguard yourself and the community around you. 

Here’s a link to a video showing you how it’s done.

(A shout-out to Free People: The retailer is partnering with Goldsheep, an LA-based factory that normally produces FP Movement leggings. They are producing masks that will be donated throughout the medical community.)

Finally, of course, here’s the simple bandana mask that requires no needle or thread–only a bandana and two hair ties.

Remember that social distancing is still key to staying safe–even with a mask.

National Poetry Month

I can always count on my poet friend Irene Latham to remind me of National Poetry Month.

Musings of an Old Man by Nancy Milford

Her postcard featuring a work from Baldwin County artist and writer Nancy Milford (“Musings of an Old Man”) was a sweet reminder to live my poem.

In happier times, whenever I sent a package to my kids in college, I always included a poem. Always. The poem tucked in with food or other little treats reflected what was going on my my life or their lives at the moment. Sometimes these poems were just about the season we were in at the time. (I also always had the postman stamp these packages “spoiled” just for fun.)

Irene is the author of wonderful books of poetry and fiction and narrative poetry and poetry picture books for children and adults including Leaving Gee’s Bend; Don’t Feed the Boy; The Color of Lost Rooms; The Cat Man of Aleppo (out Apirl 14); Meet Miss Fancy; Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship; Dictionary for a Better World; and more.

Read them, enjoy them and here are some other poetry resources for you:

Irene’s own tips for writers including an editing checklist and books to make you a better writer and Author ABCs. There are resources for young writers here, too.

The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 to support poets and bring their work to as many people as possible. The organization celebrates poetry all year long, but this month is especially special. You can search a curated collection of more than 10,000 poems by occasion, theme, form, keywords or poet’s name. I also love their poem-a-day. There are materials for teachers there, too, which should help parents these days.

National Ferret Day

It is National Ferret Day. It truly is. It’s also National Burrito Day, but I’d like to talk about ferrets.

This from the National Day Calendar will get us started: “On April 2nd, Hob and Jill went up the hill with their little Kits to celebrate National Ferret Day because that’s some serious business.”

Ferret facts: Male ferrets are called Hobs, and female ferrets are called Jills. Their babies are called Kits, and the whole ferret family is called a “business.” I love that!

Other facts: They are carnivores and are part of the mustelid family, which includes the otter, badger, weasel, marten, mink and wolverine.

Humans domesticated ferrets about 2,000 years ago because they are great hunters. Some people do keep them as mischievous pets (they do best with a ferret companion). They are highly intelligent, can learn to use a litter box and can do tricks.

But in North America, the black-footed ferret is one of our most endangered mammals.

Once thought to be completely gone, a rancher discovered a small population on his ranch in Wyoming in 1981. Since then, efforts by conservationists, breeding programs and landowners are bringing the population back from the brink of extinction.

Today the population wavers around 500 ferrets alive in the wild with more in breeding programs preparing to be reintroduced into the wild. 

You can celebrate #NationalFerretDay by learning more about the rediscovery and conservation of the black-footed ferret. Watch the movie Ferret Town to learn more. 

Listen Up

For years, I have wanted Wanda Sykes to be the voice on whatever app I’m using for driving directions. I might make wrong turns on purpose just to hear her go off. Actually, I would absolutely make wrong turns on purpose.

photo from IMDb

I was reminded of that when I saw a mention on Axios about a fun new channel on SiriusXM. (If you don’t yet read Axios, you’ll want to get right on that.)

“The midst of a global pandemic might seem like an odd time to launch a radio channel devoted to female comedians, but executives at SiriusXM believe that it’s precisely the right time,” AP reports.

The channel is called “She’s So Funny,” and it’s up now (debuted today at 7 a.m. ET). It’s channel 105 if you already subscribe. (SiriusXM also announced that starting today, it is opening up streams of all of its programming for free online, through May 15, as a gesture to people at home because of the virus.)

photo from Glamor.com

Much of the material comes from recorded routines by women like Moms Mabley, Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Tig Notaro and Whoopi Goldberg. The channel will also showcase emerging talent like Rachel Feinstein and Jo Firestone.

There will be interviews or specially-made messages from Aidy Bryant, Amy Schumer, Pamela Adlon, the Original Queens of Comedy and others in the first week.

Another thing worth a listen: A Spotify playlist called Your Father’s iPod. It’s put together by WLUR (WLUR 91.5 FM Lexington, Washington and Lee University‘s radio station) and features artists ranging from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Billie Eilish.

Enjoy!

National Crayon Day & ‘Amazing’ Coloring Pages

Got kids at home? Do they know it’s National Crayon Day?

Keep them entertained (and learning at the same time!) with some free sample coloring pages from Amazing Alabama and Amazing Georgia, the first installments in Laura Murray’s “Amazing States” coloring book series.  

These books are published by New South Books, and the third, Amazing South Carolina, releases in May. 

All three books offer creative ways to engage with history for kids and adults alike. 

Each page in these coloring books features historical and cultural sites that are a must-see in a particular county along with companion text that describes them. Every county is included.  
Click here for free coloring pages!
Amazing AlabamaAmazing Georgia and Amazing South Carolina are available for purchase on the New South Books website. They can ship them straight to you at home. (Amazing South Carolina will be available on May 12.) 

Or you can order directly from Laura Murray, who is offering free shipping with discount code “coronacation.”

Fresh Air

I know we’re all pretty much staying home, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. But exercise is allowed and encourage and vital to both our physical and mental health.

Besides, “the mountain is calling.”

I’m talking about Ruffner Mountain, which has more than enough trails that you can practice social distancing while enjoying this beautiful day.

Image from Rick Swagler

Birmingham’s past, present and future come together in the most satisfying, family-friendly way on Ruffner Mountain. That’s been the case for more than 40 years.

Ruffner Mountain is, in fact, one of the largest urban forests in the entire country. And it’s right here in our own backyard—mere minutes from just about anywhere in our metro area.  

Right now there are limited hours of trail and parking access–8:00am – 6:00pm Tuesday through Sunday. And access is permitted for the following: Residents of the City of Birmingham, Members (there is a $3 trail use fee, or you can explore other membership levels here) and Employees of a Business Member.

The Visitors Center is not open currently. The lovely Pavillion is closed, too. But all those miles and miles of well-maintained trails and the interesting industrial ruins you’ll find along the way, are available to you right now. So are the paths strewn with trilliums and the incredible, panoramic views of the city.

Image from Rick Swagler

You can appreciate the shifting shafts of sunlight dappling the forest floor through the branches of oak and hickory and sycamore trees all along your journey; take a break at Turtle Rock; and literally walk through eons of earth’s history in the quarry with limestone boulders embedded with fossils of brachiopods, bryozoans and crinoids (marine invertebrates from when this area was part of a shallow inland sea). 

Then you might also consider getting your hands on Mark Kelly’s fantastic book that celebrates this special place. Back to Nature:  A History of Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain is a beautiful book about the vital connection between that land and our city and its people. 

Kelly says the book was more than a decade in the making. But it was worth the effort because this place is important. He writes:  “Every aspect of Birmingham’s existence—geological, anthropological, social, economic, political, technological—is encapsulated in the Ruffner story.”

So get out there and explore the mountain. Simply go there and back, become a member or pay your trail use fee and be sure to observe the 6-foot rule.

You’ll be glad you did.

Give Blood

While most of us are being advised to stay home, my deepest appreciation goes out to those who are essential to our society–the first responders, doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, pharmacists, gas station attendants, restaurant workers (who still are able to work) and so many more who are out there keeping things working and moving forward right now.

Thank you. Thank you all so much.

Now I’m going to ask some of you who are home to leave your homes today and go one place: Go give blood. If you can, briefly go out into this world and give blood. Then pick up some curbside takeout from a local restaurant. That’s all.

There is a huge need right now for both those things, and since it’s important that you eat well after giving blood, that takes care of that.

You can go to Red Cross Blood to find the nearest blood drive. Just put in your zip code. You can make an appointment at the UAB Medical Blood Donation Center in downtown Birmingham, or go give at the Birmingham Blood Donation Center at 700 Caldwell Trace. The website can point you in the right direction and makes appointments easy.

You also can download the blood donor app at the App Store to make it even easier. (You do all your paperwork ahead of time, and they keep up with your donations and remind you when you can donate again.)

It’s important that you go and give blood as soon as you can, if you can. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a great many blood drives have been canceled, and there are severe blood shortages throughout the country and right here at home, too.

I went to give the other day, and while it took a little longer than I expected, I just waited my turn and read my book (six feet away from the other people waiting for their turns). The entire procedure was safe and felt that way, too. The people working there took many, many precautions in dealing with us. I never, for one moment, felt uncomfortable or afraid.

So please, if you can give blood, go and give.

Au Revoir, Winter!

It’s a Springalingadingdong! 
Go ahead. Say it out loud, because it’s fun.
Then make it part of your plans for Saturday, April 21 because that’s even more fun.
Springalingadingdong! is a European-style street carnival and giant puppet parade in Mountain Brook’s English Village.
It’s a celebration born from another celebration.
In 2009, Carole Griffin wanted to mark the 25th anniversary of her amazing Continental Bakery. She didn’t want the usual anniversary hoopla like a big ad or even a sale. Instead, she wanted a way to break through seasonal gloom and anxiety over that year’s economic woes. Remember those?
 
“I felt such a burst of hope once spring began appearing, that I had an urge to celebrate,” Griffin says. “Everyone had had such a hard time that year; they seemed so dispirited. I wanted to put all that behind us and show appreciation for our loyal customers with a big shindig. Just like that, Springalingadingdong! was born.” 
 
Fast forward to 2018, and Continental Bakery, Chez Lulu and the merchants of English Village are presenting a Springalingadingdong! that will be bigger than ever. It will be held on April 21st from 10 am to 3 pm in English Village, with Cahaba Road blocked off for the festivities.
 
“Springalingadingdong! is based on a long human tradition of communally putting winter and its challenges to rest, and, in turn, celebrating Spring’s promise of new birth and hope,” says Griffin. “Springalingadingdong! is about gratitude and delight, the human spirit, creativity, hope and community, not only in the face of hardship, but in response to it.” 
 
Festival-goers can expect a hula contest; a bread toss; a ukulele band and a drum circle; crafts; children’s activities; and a Parisian-style street market with artists, vendors and delicious food
 
There’s drama, too, as the cold monarch “Marie Antoinette” (representing Winter and stuffy, mean-spirited times) gets a mock “beheading” before her transformation into the lively, lovely May Queen. The festival culminates as everyone in the crowd is invited to join the May Queen as she leads a walking parade through English Village, accompanied by giant, 12-foot-tall, handmade puppets and a 60-piece Mardi Gras-themed band, Atlanta’s Seed and Feed Marching Abominable.
 
“We’re hopeful people,” Griffin says. “We believe in the goodness of life, so we’re going to stake our claim on it and have a festival that celebrates joy, rebirth and the pursuit of silliness.” Oui, oui, oui to Spring all that!
 
Admission is free, and absolutely everyone is invited.
 
For more information, contact Continental Bakery at 205 870-5584.

 

A Few of my Favorite Things

My friend Christiana Roussel and I are members of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. This is a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality. We are a varied group of food writers and bloggers, chefs, restauranteurs, sommeliers, farmers, cookbook authors, cheese makers, educators, food photographers and stylists, nutritionists and more.

We are dedicated to growing, creating, promoting and sharing our local food culture, and on an even more basic level, sharing food itself. We also focus on education and mentoring the young women who will follow us, and we fund scholarships to help them along.

But sometimes we just want to have fun.

So Christiana, our programs chair (who also is a food and lifestyle blogger–check out her Christiana’s Kitchen here), decided to throw a “Favorite Things” party.

Here’s how she described it:  “Each dame is to bring three items, each valued at less than $10, unwrapped, in a bag. When the party starts, each dame will get up and tell about her favorite things. After each presentation, we will pull three dame names from a bowl, and they will take home some new favorite things. At the end of the night, each dame will have shared three things and collected three things. It’s a fun way to learn more about each other.”

We gathered at the John Hand Club in downtown Birmingham (check out the incredible view), added a little wine and some delicious hors d’oeuvres to the mix, and we had ourselves a party. With really cool favors.

Here’s what I brought:

I love, love, love the Diva scent of Glamorous Wash by Tyler Candle Company (Funny story:  I ran around my neighborhood for weeks thinking it was the best-smelling place on earth and wondering why. Then I realized it was because people were doing their laundry with Diva Wash. The dryers were getting the scent out into the neighborhood.) A little of this laundry detergent goes a long way; I mix it in with my regular detergent when I wash my running and yoga clothes. The little 8-oz bottle came in just under $10.

The Party Cracker Seasoning from Savory Fine Foods, LLC in Texas makes an instant awesome snack in quantity. I included the extra-large plastic bag needed to mix it up with an entire box of saltines. This seasoning comes in other varieties:  chipotle, dill, cinnamon sweet, but I love the original mix best. This cost about $6.

Who doesn’t appreciate some cheeky cocktail napkins? These MikWright napkins with vintage photos and clever phrases are some of my favorites. I always have a few different versions on my home bar, and they are instant conversation starters. These are around $6.

 

 

 

 

And here’s what I brought home:

A three-pack of microfiber face-cleansing mitts. No more ruined washcloths! I’ll use one with Sephora’s Supreme Cleansing Oil, which is my go-to at the end of each day, and I’ll share the other two mitts with my daughters.

A great coffeecup with abstract birds on it. Perfect for sipping my morning coffee while I watch the bird feeders outside my kitchen window to see who shows up. Hummingbirds are coming soon. So are the lovely goldfinches.

A bottle of Kirkland Prosecco because who doesn’t love Prosecco or Costco, for that matter?

Some of the Dames brought items from their own businesses like a cellphone credit card holder with a gift card from Ashley McMakin, owner of Ashley Mac’s; (have you had Ashley Mac’s hot spinach and artichoke dip?). Specialty coffee from Erin Isibell, owner of The Red Cat Coffeehouse and salted chocolate granola from Jennifer Yarbrough, owner of Crestline Bagel Co. (check out my post about Crestline Bagel’s new Cahaba Heights location). Becky Satterfield, of Satterfield’s Restaurant in Cahaba Heights, brought cardamon-scented sugar; Katherine Cobbs brought honey from her own hives and a “mother” vinegar starter (with instructions) from her own kitchen. Sonthe Bokas Burge shared Shoreline Extra Virgin Olive Oil (available at Shoreline Foods International Market & Deli in Pensacola, FL) as well as a personal story of love and friendship in Crete.

Other inventive favorite things (mostly around or under $10):  a Kuhn Rikon serrated veggie peeler that even peels tomatoes, a hummingbird feeder, Maybelline skinny eyeliner, sea salt caramels, Zkano Organic Cotton Socks (made in Fort Payne), a BabyFoot peel, handmade absinthe-scented soap from NOLA, Ellis Stansel’s Gourmet Rice, a Corkcicle, handmade cards, Harney & Sons Paris teacans of wine, Trader Joe’s Organic Tahini and L’Oreal Voluminous eyelash primer.

I’d love to know your own favorite, under-$10 things. Feel free to share!

Cake for Breakfast and More at Southern Foodways Alliance Winter Symposium

I spent the past weekend at the Southern Foodways Alliance 2018 Winter Symposium here in Birmingham. I joined more than 150 people from all over the country to talk about what it means to produce, grow, cook, eat and love food in the South.

Attendees included James Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurateurs and chefs as well as some of the latest crop of nominees. There were coffee growers, food writers, oral historians, a mariachi band, educators, activists, photographers, farmers and filmmakers. Some people were there simply because they love Southern food.

And that’s good enough.

From a drink made with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, Good People‘s Snake Handler reduction AND Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale to breakfast cake made by Dolester Miles, the pastry chef at Highlands Bar & Grill, to Chef Duane Nutter‘s lunch of Sea Island Red Peas and Shrimp (and much more!) to Becky Satterfield’s amazing gumbo full of Conecuh Sausage, it was a delicious time worth savoring.

See my story on Alabama NewsCenter for all the details.

In this early 1900s picture, Jack Daniel (seen in the white hat) with Nearest Green’s son, George Green, to his immediate right. Photo credit: Jack Daniel Distillery.

You’ll find that we heard CNN’s Moni Basu talk about growing up in an Indian household in the American South and how food narratives can effect change. Fawn Weaver and Clay Risen talked about Nathan “Nearest” Green, the former slave whom many believe taught Jack Daniel how to distill whiskey. Writer Julia Turshen spoke about her book Feed the Resistance: Recipes and Ideas for Getting Involved, which benefits the ACLU. Food writer and dining critic David Hagedorn explored the various meanings of Southern hospitality, and Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter Rosalind Bentley talked about the women who fed the Civil Rights Movement and sustained protestors with home-cooked meals respectfully served on their good china.

You’ll want to put next year’s Winter Symposium on your calendar. I’ll see you there.