Author Archives: Alabama

JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

Over the past thirty-five years, public radio producer Jay Allison has accumulated a wealth of inspiration in his extensive audio archive of human experience. A personal hero of mine, he has brought innovative storytelling to the forefront of radio journalism. His new project, Transom.org, won the first Peabody Award ever given exclusively to a website. This site provides resources and community for young journalists, diarists, artists, and reporters by combining the power of the recorded spoken word and the internet. It also brings otherwise unheard stories to a broad audience.

I discovered this inspiring piece written by artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris on the Transom Review, a collection of written narratives on Transom.org. “Navigating Stuckness,” is an unashamed look at the journey Harris has taken to understand life’s meaning and the loss and gain of momentum in the long run. The story of his work is actually the story of his life. This may be one reason I found the piece so appealing.  Our work is a direct reflection of our developing state.

JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

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OCTOBER PLAYLIST 2014: DANIEL ELIAS + EXOTIC DANGERS

OCTOBER PLAYLIST 2014: DANIEL ELIAS + EXOTIC DANGERS

The music that flows through our community is nothing short of amazing. I’ve written many times about the rich musical history of The Shoals area—and I’m proud of all the up and coming artists, producers, and managers that strive to create great music in our hometown (including members of the Alabama Chanin staff).

Our graphic designer, Maggie, and her husband, Daniel, are gaining attention with their new rock ‘n roll band Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers. Below, they share how they got involved with music, along with some of their favorite songs.

Name(s): Daniel and Maggie Crisler
Band: Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers
Instrument(s) you play: Daniel – guitar, harmonica, vocals; Maggie – electric organ and percussion
Hometown: Daniel – Florence, AL; Maggie – Sheffield, AL
Presently residing: Florence, AL

AC: When did you start playing music?

DC: I remember my pop first teaching me a couple of chords on the guitar around age eight. I learned the piano, as well. The Blues was and is my first musical love, so that’s what I learned, forming the foundation for everything I play—no matter what the style is. I played (and still do) in the church band for many years before writing my first song or playing my first rock ‘n roll show.

MC: I’ve always loved music. When I was growing up, I heard a lot of Motown and classic rock because that’s what my parents listened to. I started playing piano when I was six and took lessons for about ten years. In that ten years, I also learned to play violin, clarinet, and bass guitar. I picked up the keys again when Daniel bought me a vintage Farfisa organ and asked me to play with him in a new project (which developed into this band).

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Q+A WITH NICHOLAS AND DREW

Q+A WITH DREW AND NICHOLAS

Alabama Chanin will host our final “Friends of the Café” Dinner of the 2014 season next Friday evening. The creative team from Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q, including Nicholas Pikakis and Drew Robinson, will be on hand to direct the menu. I find it amazing that Jim ‘N Nick’s currently operates over 30 restaurants across the South and manages to maintain consistency and high standards. Their commitment to sustainability at such a large scope is outstanding. They care about every detail—from the farmers and hogs, to their choice of wood, to every seasoning and side dish…it seems they do it ALL.

We caught up with Nicholas and Drew and persuaded them both to answer a few questions.

AC: What role do you play in the oversight of those individual locations? How involved are you in the day-to-day operations?

Drew Robinson: I don’t oversee any one restaurant. We have a lot of talented local owners, general managers, chefs, dining room managers, and very dedicated staff that operate great restaurants every day. I’m engaged in culinary development—new recipes, products, menus—for the company. Operationally, my role beyond that isn’t to oversee a restaurant as much as it is to continually convey the standards of our food and coach what our chefs and cooks do so that we are, hopefully, always improving.

AC: I once heard that you have no freezers—whatsoever—at any of your restaurants. Truth or legend?

DR: Truth. The “no freezers” rule is one of our core values that started with Nick and his dad, Jim. They believed in bringing all the ingredients in fresh—we start fresh and prepare fresh. They were closely joined at the hip with that value of theirs, so there was no question about doing that across the board in each of the stores.

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HEIRLOOM #5: PEGGY LOUISE’S CLOCK

HEIRLOOM #5: PEGGY LOUISE'S CLOCK

Through our Journal’s Heirloom series, we’ve been exploring the things we value and why we hold them dear. Each story reveals the value of tradition and honors possessions that were made to last. While these items may not be valuable to the world-at-large, to the owner they are priceless.

This week, Kasey, our Production Coordinator for the Alabama Chanin collection shares memories of the clock she inherited from her grandmother.

From Kasey:

My grandmother, Peggy Louise, was a mother of 6, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of 17 – and she somehow knew how to make each of us feel special. The time we spent together was filled with food, stories, and – above all – laughter.

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2014

SWATCH OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2014

The October Swatch of the Month highlights one of our most popular embroidery treatments—Alabama Fur. The technique, first presented in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, combines our Spiral stencil with backstitch-worked embroidery floss, and incorporating exposed knots and tails. Simple, yet time consuming, the end result is a hypnotic continuation of curves that is both a beauty to behold and touch (the texture is irresistible).

To create the swatch, begin by stenciling the design to the top layer of fabric using your transfer method of choice. (The Spirals stencil is available for download from our Resources page.)

Align your top and backing layers of fabric, with right sides up and pin together. Using four strands of embroidery floss (or two strands doubled) thread your needle. When you knot off, use a double knot and make sure to leave a 1” tail of floss (note that this tail is longer than we use when working with Button Craft thread, for effect).

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PATAGONIA @ ALABAMA CHANIN: TRUTH TO MATERIALS

PATAGONIA @ ALABAMA CHANIN: TRUTH TO MATERIALS

Eight years ago, and three months after Maggie was born, I stood in the wings on a stage in New York City, waiting to go on and tell the story of Alabama Chanin. I was nervous and jittery, waiting my turn while a woman named Jill Dumain talked about the sustainability work of the company she had worked with for over a decade. It was an unexpected life-changing moment.  Instead of thinking and preparing for my own talk, I got carried away by the story of Patagonia and their mission. I had always been a fan, but that day I became a devotee.

My own talk on that massive stage paled in comparison to the sharp wit and factual detail that Jill Dumain offered—the same determination that she brings daily to the job she loves. Jill and I became friends over the course of that weekend, and we stayed in touch over the following years. Two years ago, she emailed me about the possibility of collaborating on a project using Patagonia down jackets that had reached their end-of-life. The “dogs” she called them: jackets that really couldn’t be recycled as usable garments. They were garments with beautiful stories, jackets that may have been down and/or up mountains, weathered many a winter with their wearer, and come to a final resting place in a warehouse. You see, Patagonia takes responsibility for every garment they make—from design to discard method, they are involved.

Any garment you purchase from Patagonia can be returned to Patagonia—at the beginning of its life or at the end of its life. Over the years, the company goal is to extend the life of a garment through good design and great materials, as detailed in their Worn Wear stories. At the same time, Patagonia has implemented buy-back programs for used garments in good condition and have offered initiatives like the Common Threads Partnership that repair garments, extending their lives beyond one user. Their newest initiative, Truth to Materials, is the culmination of this work towards Cradle-to-Cradle design and manufacturing. The ultimate goal is for every product to reflect sustainability from the beginning of life as a raw material, through design, manufacturing, active life, and end-of-life processes. Garments that have reached the end of their lives become an active part of the environment through composting or upcycling into a new form, like our reclaimed down scarves.

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REAL WOMEN: KYM WORTHY

REAL WOMEN: KYM WORTHY

I picked up the TIME magazine pictured above at an airport kiosk some time ago.  While traveling that day, I lingered over this inspiring—and disturbing—story about Kym Worthy. It is true that some leaders find their calling early and some crusaders know their mission almost from birth. Others come to leadership by accident or they pick up the mantle of responsibility simply because no one else will. Perhaps Kym Worthy falls more into the latter group, but she is no less driven because of it. In fact, she is an example of how one person can have a massive impact on the life of another person, a community, and a national conversation.

In 2009, Detroit Assistant Prosecutor Robert Spada discovered over 11,000 unprocessed rape kits in an abandoned Detroit police warehouse. As Michigan’s Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy couldn’t help but be shocked by this discovery. As she told Katie Couric, “These [rape kits] were women’s lives. They go through this examination thinking that this evidence was going to help find their perpetrator. And it’s sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. And this was their life—and nobody cared.”

Since that discovery, Worthy—herself a survivor of rape—has made national headlines for her work, bringing attention to the nationwide backlog of untested rape kits. She has worked at the local and national level to fight for funding to have the kits tested, eventually receiving a $1 million federal grant to begin testing Detroit’s massive backlog.  Worthy said that she and her team had to literally dust off the kits, physically open and inventory each one to collect victim information. The statute of limitations on many of the cases had long since passed. Still, Worthy’s team manually cross-referenced the kits with police reports and incomplete investigations. DNA evidence is only one component of any case—and each of these cases had to be re-established and reinvestigated (or, sadly, investigated for the first time).

REAL WOMEN: KYM WORTHY

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THE FACTORY CAFE CHEF SERIES: JIM ‘N NICK’S

THE FACTORY CAFE CHEF SERIES: JIM 'N NICK'S

My love for barbeque is no secret. Though I might be partial to our local fixings, I can honestly say most of the barbeque I’ve experienced throughout Alabama and the South is both distinctive and delicious. Each region and territory has its own unique recipes and tastes. One of the most well-known barbeque establishments from our state is Jim ‘N Nick’s, founded in Birmingham in 1985 by father and son team, Jim and Nick Pihakis. The company is rooted in community (with claims that it is “the key ingredient in any good bar-b-q”) and their belief that good food brings people together. Each Jim ‘N Nick’s location is locally owned and operated, which encourages every restaurant to develop relationships within their respective communities and advance the company principles of education, health and wellness, and local farming.

I’ve known Nick Pihakis for several years now. He is one of the most generous folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting—always in good spirits (and never one to turn down a good bourbon libation). In fact, Nick and several other renowned Southern chefs, writers, and farmers formed the Fatback Collective while discussing barbeque competitions over glasses of bourbon. The Fatback Collective has participated in competition barbecue events, while keeping the focus on quality flavor and sustainable techniques; members include John T. Edge, Ashley Christensen, Angie Mosier, and John Currence. The collective, as well as Jim ‘N Nick’s establishments, all source their pork from the farms that are part of the Fatback Pig Project—a collaboration that supports pasture-raised, heritage breeds.

THE FACTORY CAFE CHEF SERIES: JIM 'N NICK'S

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HOW TO CATCH A FROG

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Perhaps the most common advice given to any writer: write what you know. Fabric designer, crafter, illustrator, writer, friend, and heroine Heather Ross manages to do just that in her newest publication, How to Catch a Frog: And Other Stories of Family, Love, Dysfunction, Survival, and DIY. In the book, Heather shares wisdom, heartfelt stories, lessons from her eccentric childhood spent in rural Vermont, gorgeous humor, and her deep joy for life.

Published by Stuart Tabori Chang, one of the descriptions of the book reads:

“When, as a twenty-something, Heather complained to her mother about a long list of things she had missed out on and that had compromised her chance of ever leading a ’normal’ life (immunizations, a healthy respect for authority), her mother waved a hand and replied, ’Well, you should thank me, because you have a lot of good stories instead.’”

The stories that Heather weaves, particularly the tales of a childhood surrounded by nature, remind me in-parts of my own daughter, Maggie, who spent much of her summer this year in Seale, Alabama, with her dad, Butch…swimming in a cattle watering trough, exploring the woods, riding ponies, creating art, catching frogs, lizards, turtles, and snakes, and—much to my dismay—having a pretty close encounter with a crocodile.

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Heather’s anecdotes of her youthful adventures elicit emotional responses without relying on conventions or tropes. I laughed, I cried, and I found true appreciation for her life lessons.

I was (luckily) invited to read an early copy of the book and contributed this review on the book’s back cover:

I’ve long counted myself among Heather’s admirers; I am now a full-fledged devotee, grateful to her for inviting us all into her world.

Purchase a copy of Heather’s book from our online store, and read more about her other noteworthy publication Heather Ross PRINTS here.

How to Catch a Frog: And Other Stories of Family, Love, Dysfunction, Survival, and DIY by Heather Ross is a Melanie Falick Book published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, an imprint of Abrams (our own publisher).

xoNatalie