Day-trip: Mentone, Alabama

ml8  Mountain Laurel Inn

Mentone was on my list of Day Trips so I was glad to have the opportunity to visit there this past weekend. This little town is about a two hour drive from Birmingham (I didn’t drive so I got to read most of the way – Yea!).

We went by way of Little River Canyon, which I will write about in a separate post. I had secured a night at the Mountain Laurel Inn, though I was hoping for two nights. I had  waited too long, however, to call and make a reservation. This is not a place you will happen upon by chance. I also neglected to read my confirmation email that included directions and said not to use GPS. So, we ended up lost at first, but a quick call to Sarah, the innkeeper, and she gave us clear instructions. We weren’t too far away. After several turns we were headed down a dirt/gravel road into a rustic setting on a rainy afternoon.

The weather was cool enough to leave our windows open. After unloading, we went into town for supper. I would NOT recommend the Moonlight Bistro, but afterwards we ventured on to the Wildflower Café for dessert and music. The Derby Pie was fantastic and the music brought back memories, ala Cat Stevens and Jim Croce.

Before breakfast we took a small hike – just 10 minutes from our door was Desoto Falls. Being on private property, there were no handrails, just au naturel – and it was gorgeous. Breakfast was a treat! Sarah’s Decadent French Toast is on the “100 Foods to Eat In Alabama Before You Die” 2012 list. It was fantastic!

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That day was JulyFest in Mentone, and despite the rain, it was a pleasant morning up on The Brow. We made several gift purchases, saw the end of the Pet Parade, and enjoyed the view. In town we checked out some antique stores and other shops, and then headed down the road to Fort Payne. All in all it was a short but lovely trip.

the brow The Brow

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The Charming Town of Helena

A good introduction to Helena comes through the small Farmers Market that is held there every Saturday. What other such market has southern belles (the Helena Belles) to greet you? Along with numerous vendors of fresh produce, shoppers may also find fresh bread, sweet smelling soap, or even a cookbook. In the background are musical notes from local entertainers and the hum of buyers and sellers and neighbors greeting each other. From vendors offering to take a purchase to the car of an elderly customer, to sellers giving out samples and explaining how to cook their beans, examples of kindness and good customer service abound.

Here are some of the local vendors to be found on a Saturday morning:

K and S Farms – lots of fresh, seasonal produce

Taylor Hatchet Boozer Farms – think peaches!

Cheeky Maiden Soap – made with pure olive oil, pure palm oil, and pure coconut oil

Mixon Farms – Owner Jared Mixon has also started a market in Chilton County

Five Points Farms – check out their facebook page HERE

Prattville Honey Farms – owner Allen Mills has been farming for over 20 years

B.B. Bread – started seven years ago; specializes in sourdough bread

Southern Natural Soap – made with goat’s milk

Little Bit Southern -this is where you can find a cookbook

Another treat is the guest chef demonstration. Recent appearances have been made by Chris Vizzina, Executive Chef and President of Campus Dining, Inc. at Samford University, and Matthew Guy Lagace of Bellinis Ristorante. You can check out the Helena Market Blog HERE for some delicious recipes.

After shopping, a stroll down a path, under the road and across an open grassy area will take you to the “falls” at the Buck Creek Dam. Here you may find picnickers, photographers, and kids wading in the cool waters. It’s almost like a step back in time.

In town there are many quaint shops in which to browse and buy. These will be featured in a later post, so stay tuned!

Get Smart at the Hoover Library

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To say I was impressed with the Hoover Public Library would be an understatement. Before I moved to Birmingham I had a library card in two counties, both Duval and St. Johns, but I can say I think Hoover has them both beat.

In Duval County (Jacksonville) the main library downtown was huge and beautiful, but not so convenient.  Some of you other Jax transplants may be familiar with it. That is one difference – the convenience. Another is the staff. I was helped by Mary and another employee at the front desk in Hoover. They  were both helpful and friendly. Getting my card was easy (so much easier than getting that driver’s license!) and then Mary gave me a brief overview of where things were located. They graciously called a boss to be sure I had permission to take photos as I explored. Even in my favorite little library near my home in St. Johns County I never was met with such southern hospitality.

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The layout of the library makes it super easy to find what you’re looking for. The video and music selection is quite large. Audio books are also available, some of which can even be downloaded.

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The large Kidzone was very child friendly and even had a fenced outdoor play area. The Teen Spot was a perfect place for study or hanging out. For those who need a hushed place for study there is a Quiet Study area.

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The Friends Bookstore, staffed by Friends of the Hover Library, and Coffe-ol-ogy Café are two places I plan to check out more thoroughly on my next visit.

The library has a full schedule of activities and events for all ages, from storytime for those three and under to the Battle of the Bands for the teens to numerous book groups for adults. There are also author presentations and musical events as well.

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Some unique features that wowed me:

  • The “Cone of Silence” – a futuristic-looking booth that patrons can step inside if they need to use their cell phone
  • Book Club Kits- including multiple copies of the book – that can be checked out for six weeks
  • To make checkout easy, there are self-check kiosks scattered around the building.
  • An online “email a librarian” feature
  • Nooks available for checkout
  • Laptops that can be checked out for use within the library
  • Headphones are sold for $2 and Flash Drives for $5 at the service desk
  • The Library Theatre – a venue that hosts World-Class entertainment

Municipal Dr, Hoover, AL 35216
(205) 444-7800

Target and Beyond

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Talk about Southern Hospitality! I experienced this first hand in Target, of all places. I’m used to Publix, my fav grocery store, being full of friendly and helpful employees. But Target? I had no less than six people ask me how I was doing and if I was finding everything okay. One young girl even came back a second time to check on me. But, it wasn’t just Target. When I entered Kohl’s I was greeted my three pleasant workers. And at Babies R Us – same thing.

It could just be that these particular stores had excellent managers and good training procedures. But, I never got this kind of service in Jacksonville, except, of course, at Publix. It sure makes transitioning easier!