A World of Imagination at Brave + Kind Books

In a cozy storefront on College Avenue, Brave + Kind is one of Atlanta’s most charming independent bookstores. Black- and woman-owned, this shop offers a highly curated selection of books that are both diverse and inclusive. These days, when most shopping is done online or in big box retailers, it can be hard to find local shops where you can pick up, hold, flip through, and buy books about topics such as race, LGBTQ rights, historical leaders, family diversity, and more.

When Bunnie Hilliard, owner of Brave + Kind, first got involved in the bookseller business, she envisioned the space as being a safe place for people to come together over a shared love of books. “When I opened Brave + Kind as a brick and mortar space, it was my vision that it would be a community space for people to come and gather, to connect and share stories, and to find stories that resonated with them and their families,” said Hilliard. 

“I think we all have something fun and unique and special to share with the world,” Hilliard continued, saying that she hopes Brave + Kind acts as a complement to the book community. “Brave’s Vision is to be very intentional about celebrating and elevating diverse books and authors, so that’s why I’m here.”

As for the name? Well, that comes from, of all places, a post-it note. On her desk she has a note she wrote to herself to aid in choosing which new books to sell. It reads “Good story? Diverse characters? Will the kids learn something? Brave + Kind? Mirrors and windows?” Indeed, the very guiding principles that dictate her book choice came to represent the shop as a whole. 

Inside the storefront, the space is saturated with color and light. A rainbow of books lines the sides of the shop, ranging in age from picture books to young adult novels and even some adult options. Stools and benches can be brought out to allow for sharing stories with little ones. Tables in the center of the space are stacked high with books. Small knick knacks, tote bags, toys, notepads and other accessories that are sure to appeal to book lovers of all ages can be found on shelves throughout the storefront.

Hilliard’s interest in owning a bookstore comes from a love of children’s books that flourished when she became a mother and she began looking for books to share with her children, now aged 9 and 13.  “And in my quest to find and share with them stories where the characters had faces that provided some mirrors, the initial seeds were planted in my mind for what later became Brave + Kind Bookshop.” 

Prior to becoming a shop owner, Hilliard’s background was in business, marketing, and financial services. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, she attended HBCU Florida A&M University before relocating to Atlanta in 2003. While she didn’t consider herself “bookish,” she does have fond memories of patronizing her local library and keeping up to date with the latest Junie B. Jones books in her youth.

As for how she found the storefront on College Ave, she feels there were higher powers at play. “I believe the bookshop chose me,” Hilliard explained. “I came in while it was still under ownership of another resident asking for startup brick and mortar business advice and by the end of the conversation the occupant was offering me the space so that she could move on to a larger location. I believe the universe and my faith rose up to meet my vision.”

Brave + Kind opened its doors three years ago, with two-thirds of their existence during the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, despite the difficulties all local businesses face, this local gem has survived and thrived. “It has been an interesting journey,” recalls Hilliard wryly. Today, she is focused on strengthening the shop’s internal operations, cultivating an intentionally diverse and inclusive book selection, and deepening the shop’s connections within the community. 

Being a member of the Brave + Kind community can mean involvement with special programs such as their Book of the Month Club wherein patrons are delivered a selection of the staff’s favorite picture books each month, as well as special themed selections. The shop aims to provide a conduit for parents to easily find thoughtfully inclusive books that reflect the diversity of our world. So, next time you’re in the area, stop in and take a look for yourself. There is something for every brave and kind little soul at this delightful shop.

Originally written for Homestead Stories

Feeling Springy!

I’ll be the first to admit it, this has been a tough winter. As the days get longer and weather gets warmer, locals are seriously jonesing for activities and gatherings. Looking for something fun to do? Need a reason to get out of the house? Look no further than this list of great springtime events!

Atlanta Fair
Gray Lot at Georgia Stadium, 688 Central Ave. SW Atlanta, GA 30303
Now through April 10
Since 1972 the Atlanta Fair has been a beloved event in this city. Offering carnival rides, classic fair eats like cotton candy and funnel cake, games, and more, this event is great fun for families, outings with friends, and date nights alike. More info

Orchid Daze
Atlanta Botanical Gardens, 1345 Piedmont Avenue, N.E. Atlanta, GA 30309
Now through April 10
Celebrate the return of spring with thousands of fragrant orchids on display as well as an exhibition of sculptures by artist Kristine Mays at the Fuqua Orchid Center. Make a day of it by wandering through the 30 acres of beautifully manicured gardens, stop by the Longleaf restaurant, Quick Café, and snack stations throughout the grounds. More info

Friday Jazz
High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree Street NE Atlanta, GA 30309
Multiple dates through April 15, starting at 6PM
Hosted by Jazz 91.9 WCLK’s Jamal Ahmad, on the third Friday of the month this event features music, drinks, and art. Experience different kinds of jazz including free jazz, bebop, and swing. More info.  

Spring Concert Series
Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, 980 Briarcliff Road, N.E. Atlanta, GA 30306
Multiple dates until April 8, starting at 7:30PM
Callanwolde’s idyllic outdoor amphitheater invites visitors to spend an evening in a serene natural setting with friends and loved ones while being entertained by live music. Bring blankets, chairs, and a picnic dinner with drinks! Performers include Robin Latimore, Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, and David Berkeley. More info

Dogwood Festival
Piedmont Park, 929 Charles Allen Dr. NE, Atlanta, GA 30306
April 8 through April 10
For more than 80 years Atlanta’s Dogwood Festival has been one of the most popular art festivals in the southeast. Taking over the beautiful grounds of Piedmont Park, this event boasts a nationally renowned-juried Fine Artist Market which features hundreds of artists exhibiting a variety of sculpture, paintings, pottery, jewelry, photography and more. The Kids Village offers arts and crafts and face painting, and art lovers of all ages can try their hand at artmaking at the Sip & Paint activity. Enjoy live music and delectable eats all weekend long! More info

Georgia Renaissance Festival
Weekends, April 9 through May 30
6905 Virlyn B. Smith Rd. Fairburn, GA 30213
It’s time! Don your best medieval garb, buy yourself a turkey leg, and step back in time at Georgia’s Renaissance Festival. This year represents the 37th year of this fun outdoor event where visitors can experience an array of fun activities, sights, sounds, and eats. Whether you’re interested in watching the jousts, jugglers, performances, and live music, or if you’re hoping to find artisan-made items like flower crowns, knives, pottery, woodworking, and clothing, there’s something for everyone at this fun and festive event. Early bird tickets are only $17 for adults when purchased by March 17 with code LUCKY at checkout. More info

Food-O-Rama Food Truck Festival
Grant Park, 90 Cherokee Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30308
April 16
Do you love food? Who doesn’t, right? Well the Food-O-Rama Food Truck Festival will have something to offer for every palate. With more than 50 food trucks and restaurants, Grant Park will be transformed into a foodie paradise. This year’s iteration even includes a Vegan Alley! More info

Lemonade Days
Brook Run Park, 4770 N Peachtree Rd Dunwoody, GA 30338
April 20 through April 24
The 22nd annual Lemonade Days Festival will return to Brook Run Park from Wednesday April 20 through Sunday, April 24. This free family-friendly event features full-scale carnival rides, food and beverage vendors, musical performances, center stage performances, and the popular Dunwoody Idol contest. More info

Atlanta Film Festival + Creative Conference
Plaza Theater, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30306
April 21 through May 1
Atlanta’s preeminent film festival returns for its 46th year, bringing world-class feature films, shorts, award ceremonies, conferences, socializing, and more to the Plaza Theater in Poncey Highlands. The initial lineup has been announced, with more showings to come. More info

Inman Park Festival, Tour of Homes, and Parade
Inman Park, 1055 DeKalb Ave, NE Atlanta
April 23 & April 24
Taking place in one of Atlanta’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods, the Inman Park Festival is a beloved tradition celebrating 50 years in 2022. Three stages with live music, a joyous parade, tour of homes, kids activities, vendors and artisans selling their goods, and a kids zone welcome visitors and ensure that there is something fun for everyone at this fun event. More info.

Sweetwater 420 Fest
Centennial Olympic Park, 265 Park Ave W NW, Atlanta, GA 30313
April 29 through May 1
Sponsored by Atlanta’s own Sweetwater Brewing Company, this annual festival will bring together artists from across the country for beer, food, and fun. Performances include Snarky Puppy, Oysterhead, the Stringcheese Incident, Dirty Heads, Thievery Corporation, among others. More info.  

Shaky Knees
Central Park, 400 Merritts Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308
April 29 through May 1
This annual event is a music-lover’s delight. More than 60 bands will bring the noise to Central Park with a diverse lineup of world-renowned acts partnered with up-and-coming artists. This year’s performers include Nine Inch Nails, My Morning Jacket, Billy Idol, Death Cab for Cutie, Phantom Planet, Spoon, Travis, and The Happy Fits among others. More info

Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival
Atlantic Station, 245 18th St NW, Atlanta, GA 30363
April 30
Melt in your mouth goodness abounds at the Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. Come out to enjoy live music, tasty drinks, and of course all the cheese and bread you can handle. More info

Sweet Auburn Springfest
Historic Sweet Auburn District, 230 John Wesley Dobbs Atlanta, Ga 30303
May 7 & 8
This family-friendly event features live R&B, jazz, hip hop, country, and gospel music set in the historic streets of the Sweet Auburn District. Visitors can enjoy delicious eats at the International Food Court, a kids zone, and guaranteed good vibes at this event that celebrates the history, heritage and achievements of Atlanta’s African Americans. More info

Chastain Park Arts Festival 
Chastain Park, 4469 Stella Dr NW Atlanta, GA 30342
May 14 & 15
The Chastain Park Arts Festival was named one of tne of the Nations Top 100 Arts Festivals Nationwide by Sunshine Artist Magazine. This year, the 13th annual event at Chastain Park along Park Drive will enlist approximately 175 artists and artisans, kids area, acoustic musicians, food trucks, and even gourmet food trucks! Free to attend. More info

MomoCon
Georgia World Congress Center, 285 Andrew Young International Blvd NW, Atlanta, GA 30313
May 26 through 29
This all-ages geek culture convention is staging a triumphant return after disruptions in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. This event highlights American and Japanese animation and celebrates costuming and cosplay, celebrity meet-and-greets, video games, board games, and live action role play gaming. More info.

 

Flying Colors Butterfly Festival
Chattahoochee Nature Center, 9135 Willeo Rd Roswell, GA 30075
June 4 & 5
Butterfly lovers, rejoice! The Chattahoochee Nature Center is hosting an event that’s all about our fluttery friends. This year’s Flying Colors Butterfly Festival is the 23rd annual event and will feature butterfly encounters, photo ops, and pollinator education, plus live music and food vendors. $15 general admission, $13 for CNC members. Kids aged 2 and under are free. More info.

Originally written for Homestead Stories.

Accessible Sustainability with Tap Refillery

A small van pulls up in the parking lot, backs into a spot, and cuts the engine. With the back doors open row after row of containers are visible just inside the trunk. This is Tap Refillery, a mobile refillery featuring personal care items and household cleaning products. It’s a unique business model, this shop-on-wheels, and it serves a unique purpose in the city of Atlanta.

Tiffany Zujkowski, photo by Isadora Pennington

Established only a year ago, the business is the brainchild of Tiffany Zujkowski. Though she works as a Manager of Client Success Management at Waystar, her passion for sustainability really thrives when behind the wheel of Tap Refillery. “I love being able to offer something so unique to our community.” A resident of Decatur, Zujkowski spends her weekends and off-times setting up shop in driveways and parking lots to sell her products. 

The desire to start Tap Refigglery was inspired by Zujkowski’s childhood dreams of growing up to become a Marine Biologist. “I mean, who didn’t want to grow up and swim with dolphins everyday?” she mused. While she didn’t end up working in that industry, her intentions to reduce her contributions to ocean pollution have continued to this day. “I made changes here and there, but when the pandemic hit, and we started seeing wildlife change their behavior due to humans no longer frequenting their domain, I decided I wanted to do more to continue to reduce my personal waste.”

By starting Tap Refillery, Atlanta’s first mobile refill station, she was able to fill a need that was going unmet. Reducing waste and single use plastics is a huge undertaking, and something that requires conscious effort on an individual level. Zujkowski found that it was difficult to find brick and mortar locations nearby to refill her household and personal care goods. “I decided that if it didn’t exist, I would build it!”

And thus, the concept of Tap Refillery was born. “It allowed me an easy way to get out in my community and share this unique shopping experience with my neighbors and educate them on why making sustainable changes is so important for our future,” said Zujkowski. “I wanted to make refilling easy for customers so they could see how simple it is to make small changes no matter where they are in their low waste journey.” 

Visitors to the truck, which sets up monthly at places such as Lush Plant Co. in Oakhurst and Dom Beijos wine shop in Kirkwood, can bring their own or buy new containers to fill up with products. Tap’s offerings include laundry detergent, dish soap, hand soap, all purpose cleaner, hand sanitizer, shampoo and conditioner, face and body lotion, body wash, and pet care. Customers can refill any sort of container, such as glass jars and empty plastic containers from past purchases, paying only for the products inside. 

Not only is the business model centered around reducing single-use plastics and waste, even the sourcing of the bulk products is sustainable! The manufacturer who provides the plant-based eco-friendly formulas that Tap sells offers a closed-loop system wherein the containers in the back of the truck are actually sent back to the production warehouse to be refilled, thereby reducing even another instance of waste in the process. “We send the containers back to them to be sanitized and then they reuse the containers again. It was important to us to make our shop as zero-waste as possible so that we were not contributing to the problem we are ultimately trying to solve.” 

Zujkowski is continually looking for more locations from which she can sell her products and you can actually book the truck for a private event at your home which makes refilling a no-brainer for you and your community. She hinted at some exciting developments that have not yet been announced, and hopes that she will continue to find additional community partnerships for Tap Refillery. 

To learn more about Tap Refillery, go online to their website and follow them on social media. If you’d like to stock up on some of your goods and see the truck for yourself, you can check it out at their upcoming public events. They will be stationed from 1-3PM at Lush Plant Co on the third Sunday of each month and at Dom Beijos on the last Sunday of each month.

Love is in the A

It’s that time of year again– time to celebrate love! This season can be hard for some, the newness of 2022 has started to wear off and we are stuck with short, chilly days coupled with some post-holiday blues. While the pandemic certainly makes things difficult, there are still some wonderful ways to celebrate your love with your special someone. 

So, to bolster your spirits and give you something to look forward to, I have gathered some special Valentine’s Day events and offerings for your consideration. Vive L’Amour! 

For The Theatrical Type

RoleCall Theater presents their iteration of Romeo & Juliet all month long. Known for their trademark fast-paced and energetic style, this represents RoleCall’s tenth show in their Shakespeare in the Ponce series. Performances of this classic romantic tale will take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7PM, running February 3 through 26. Tickets are available here.

For The Crafty Type

Does your love enjoy making things by hand? If so, this is the perfect outing to do something fun and crafty together. The Mangata Experience is hosting a 2-hour beginners pinch pot workshop on Thursdays all month long. You’ll have the opportunity to learn the basics of ceramics, construct, and decorate your project however you like. All products will be glazed and fired and ready for pickup two weeks following your session. BYOB! For more information and to book your visit, check out their website

For The Partying Type 

On Saturday, February 12 from noon to 4PM, the streets of Buckhead Village will be transformed into a love-filled block party. Visitors will receive a complimentary stem from the Pinker Times floral station (or purchase an entire bouquet!), enjoy treats by Saint Germain Bakery, and groove to live music by Lilac Wine. More information is available on the Buckhead Village website

For The Macabre Type

Arguably Atlanta’s most unique Valentine’s Day event, Oakland Cemetery is presenting a walking tour of the Victorian garden cemetery. Featuring stories of romance from Atlantans of days gone by, this tour will highlight symbols of love found on monuments and stories of love that extend from this life into the afterlife. Tours will be available on Saturday, February 12 through Monday, February 14. More information available here

For The Musical Type

Enjoy the musical stylings of a string quartet as they perform classic romantic music surrounded by candles at the historic Trolley Barn in Inman Park. Taking place on Saturday, February 12 from 6:30 to 7:35PM, the quartet will perform songs such as Claire de Lune, Moon River, and True Love Waits. Seating is first come, first serve – reserve your tickets online.

Valentine’s Day Eats & Drinks:

Six- and eight-course tasting menus at Lazy Betty. Available Wednesday, February 9 through Monday, February 14, these offerings include Vichyssoise Agnolotti with mussel pil pil, ocean froth & Iberico guanciale and Sauteed Blue Ridge Mountain Trout with creme fraiche potato, smoked trout cream, dill & trout roe. View full menus and book your reservations online now!

All-inclusive Valentine’s Day igloos at 9 Mile Station. Enjoy sweeping views of the city from the picturesque roof of Ponce City Market. Reservations include expedited entry to The Roof via private elevator, a five-course menu with wine pairings for each guest, a dozen roses, and one bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. Available Saturday, February 12 and Monday, February 14. More information and reservations can be found online.  

Galentine’s Day Brunch at Hampton + Hudson. Celebrate the love of your friends with a festive brunch on Saturday, February 12 from 10AM to 2:30PM. What better way to share the love with gal-pals than to enjoy their amazing brunch menu plus a waffle special, bellinis, champagne, and rosé all day while Parks & Rec plays in the background! Don’t miss the photo booth and a limited edition Galentine’s print while supplies last. Reservations are encouraged but not required. Book your table today by emailing events@hamptonandhudson.com.

Prix-Fixe Valentine’s Day menu at The Southern Gentleman. A four-course menu including delectable offerings such as brie fondue-toasted sourdough with truffle, seared yellowfin tuna, pot roast, salmon, and milk chocolate genoise or fromage blanc cheesecake for dessert. Coming in at $79 per person (not including tax or gratuity) this special menu is only available on Monday, February 14. More information available on their website

Mini gelato hearts available from Honeysuckle Gelato in Ponce City Market. From February 7 through February 14, mini hearts will be available to purchase in flavors such as strawberry shortcake and chocolate raspberry. The holiday weekend’s offerings include a chocolate and strawberry shake. Gelato purchases made on Valentine’s Day will be accompanied by a free mini pound cake cookie! More info here

Georgetown Cupcake’s Valentine’s Day dozens. The You’re Sweet Dozen offers flavors such as strawberry cheesecake, peanut butter fudge, and red velvet cupcakes for $38 per dozen. Opt for the Valentine’s Day Dozen with flavors such as raspberry chocolate chip, salted caramel, vanilla and baby pink buttercream for $42 per dozen, packaged in a limited edition pink heart gift box. Is your love long-distance? They’ve got you covered. Nationwide overnight shipping is available for only $20! Go online for more information. 

Originally written for Homestead Stories

When it Snows in the South

Hi all, this is a bit of a deviation from my typical feature content. In light of the upcoming winter storm that is due to hit Atlanta this weekend, I thought I should go ahead and compile all of my tips for surviving winter weather in the southeast into one easily shared resource. 

A few notes before I get into it: I am not an expert. I’m just a mom who loves to be prepared (thanks, trauma). I have also lived in the northeast for periods of time so I am familiar with both winter weather and the struggles faced by those in the south when a snow or ice storm hits. Also sometimes my advice is overkill, so please take this all with a grain of salt. Not every winter storm is going to be devastating or even a significant event. But sometimes it is, and if you are not prepared a winter storm can go from inconvenient to dangerous really quickly.

The photos in this article I took during Snowpocalypse 2011 when I was living in Virginia Highlands.

It is also worth noting that winter weather just looks different in the south. And that’s not only because of the extreme disparity between infrastructure surrounding ice and snow removal, it’s also due to the way winter precipitation falls and into what kind of setting. My theory is that warm ground tends to melt snow which then gets compacted by snowfall and sleet and becomes black ice pretty quickly. I have anecdotally seen this happen a few times since I moved here in 2007. Here’s an article that gets more into the science behind different kinds of snowfall and how it can be affected by climate and other circumstances.

Another factor, beyond not having enough snow plows and salt trucks, is our lush tree canopy. I love our trees here in Atlanta! But they don’t have to contend with heavy snow and ice very often, so when there’s a significant ice event they get weighed down by the accumulation and tend to break, often bringing down power lines as they fall. Additionally, drivers not familiar with driving on ice (don’t drive too fast, and if you hit icy pavement don’t slam on the brakes, instead try pressing and releasing the brakes over and over again) have been known to hit transformers which can take out power to entire neighborhoods. No one should feel ashamed to admit they don’t feel comfortable driving on ice, it’s not easy! 

Surviving Winter Storms in the South

1- Have some nonperishable food and water reserves on hand. This is good to have year-round, it doesn’t take a weather emergency to cause a water shortage or become difficult to get to the grocery store. I’m also not a full-blown prepper: you won’t find MREs in my basement, I don’t do my own canning, and I don’t have a rain barrel. What I do have, however, is a couple of jugs of water (like $1 each), a box of instant oatmeal, some extra pasta and pasta sauce, some cans of soup, and some frozen veggies. Nothing crazy! But it’s enough that if we couldn’t make it to the store for a few days we would be okay.

I also don’t advise stocking up on anything you don’t actually eat. We don’t eat tuna, so we don’t stock tuna in our cabinets even though it is arguably a good thing to have on hand. We do have boxes of mac ‘n cheese (best if it’s the kind that doesn’t require milk/butter), cans of beans, cans of veggies, cans of soup, rice, pasta, frozen meats (just one extra of whatever we normally get, so usually sausage, chicken, or ground beef), frozen veggies and fries, and things like snack packs of Ritz crackers. Make sure you have your prescription medication and food for your pets, too!

2- External battery packs. This is one of the most used and most important things to have IMO. They are cheap and easy to come by. Having more than 1 will allow you to run your devices for extended periods of time. The best kind you can get are solar powered chargers, because with those you can recharge over and over again even if you don’t have power for a few days. I even have an all-in-one tool in my car that has a flashlight, seatbelt cutter, tool for breaking car windows, and a cell phone charger built in. And yes, it’s solar powered!

3- Speaking of solar power, another thing to think about is light. We have a pop up lantern that is solar powered and can be charged via outlet as well. That’s handy to have, along with flashlights. The problem with flashlights is they aren’t very convenient for lighting up a dark room so you can read or do other activities, they are really best suited for actively looking for things. Lanterns, whether they be solar or battery or gas powered, will make your space livable, which is what we are going for here.

Candles are a good backup but don’t cast as much light as a lantern. I do keep a stock of emergency candles on hand just in case but I’ve thankfully never needed to use them. 

4- Keeping warm. Now here is where having candles can really come in handy. Did you know that one single candle, even the size of a tealight, when placed into the bottom of a terra cotta pot can act as an emergency heater? You can also put one in the bottom of an aluminum or tin can for the same effect. A tea light in a can is able to keep the space inside of a car above freezing for hours! I suggest keeping these basic supplies (matches or a lighter in a ziploc bag, a small candle, and a can of some sort) in your car just in case you ever get stranded.

5- On the subject of keeping warm, if you think you might lose power I suggest you determine what your warmest room is in the house and shut it off in the hours leading up to the storm. If you have a space heater pop it in there and let it run. Keep the doors closed and let it get really warm. Don’t go in there until and unless you’ve lost power and it is getting too cold to be comfortable in the rest of the house. Then you can go in and be a bit better off in that small room than in the open spaces of your home.

6- Also a suggestion, go ahead and find the drafts in your house and tape them up with special sealing tape now before the storm hits. As a bonus, this helps in all seasons with energy costs. Common places to find leaks are windows, doors, and even the spaces under your kitchen and bathroom cabinets. You can insulate these spaces yourself if you’re handy or you can hire a professional, but you can definitely use some tape to sure them up on your own in the days leading up to the bad weather.

7- In case the worst happens, and you lose power in the midst of a killer snowstorm or ice storm for multiple days. It can become unlivable in your home pretty quickly especially if you live somewhere that doesn’t normally get cold weather and is therefore not equipped. If this happens there’s a worst case scenario plan I’ll outline. For it you will need a rug or a mat of some kind, blankets, and a camping tent. 

Yes, fish that dusty old  tent out from your basement and have it handy. 

You’ll want to find a thick rug or mat or lay down thick (preferably wool) blankets on the floor. On top of that you can set up your tent, then drape another blanket on top of the tent. If you do this, ensure you allow for some air flow so that you can breathe comfortably. The best is to have mylar blankets which I have on hand both in my house and in our cars. They are not expensive so keep a couple around if you need them. They are especially life-saving if you find yourself stranded in your car. If you have these mylar blankets, lay them between the rug or mat and the bottom of your tent, so the layering goes rug first, then blankets or mats, then the mylar blanket, then your tent, and put a mylar blanket on top of the tent. 

This will keep you alive in even the worst case scenarios. 

8- A radio. Who even has a radio these days? It’s helpful to have although in all my years and storms I have weathered I will admit I have never used one. A crank radio is great because it does not rely on external power, but they are a pain to use. 

9- Walk around your property and look for hanging branches. These branches can and will fall when they get weighed down with snow and ice. Be aware of their presence and don’t park under them. While you’re at it, if you can park in a spot where you’re not stuck at the top or the bottom of a hill, do that. It’s a good idea to hire an arborist if you can afford one to come out and clean up branches in the fall before the weather turns. This is just good to do in general but can also prevent some damage in a storm.

10- If you must go out and drive on days that are predicted to have wintry weather (I strongly advise against it but I know it is a privilege to be able to stay home) then have a few things in your cars just in case. Since I’ve lived here in Atlanta I can think of two or three instances where people were trapped in their cars for hours and even days at a time, marooned between wrecks on interstates around the city. It’s not just that “southerners don’t know how to drive on snow… hyuck hyuck” it’s also that in other places that get more snow the roads are prepared in advance and regularly plowed and treated with deicer. Here in the south we are incredibly car dependent and there is very little in the way of assistance for stranded motorists. Plan accordingly.


So here’s what is in my car emergency kit:

  1. A blanket (why not? I also use mine for picnics!)
  2. The candle / can / lighter situation I described earlier
  3. A flashlight (see #2 for a link to my personal favorite)
  4. A gallon ziploc bag with kitty litter which can be sprinkled in front of tires if you get stuck to provide some traction.
  5. Some small snack and water (note: don’t leave them in the car all the time, when plastics get hot they can infiltrate the food with chemicals which can make you pretty sick. If you know you’ll be out driving during bad weather just toss a granola bar and a water into your bag just in case. If you do get stuck you’ll be grateful for it!)
  6. Wear weather-appropriate clothes. Don’t wear sandals or heels, or at least bring some boots or sneakers with you. Dress warmly. 

And that’s it! Not overwhelming, right?

Now a couple of car-related safety tips – if you get stranded it is typically best to stay with your car. Your car is much more visible than you are, and you have some protection from the elements inside. 

If you know a storm is coming, go ahead and fill up your gas tank. Not just because it’s going to be impossible to find gas the day before a storm (and with lines wrapping around the block, it’s a pain if nothing else) but also because in the event you get stranded it will be helpful if you can run the heat a bit. I try not to be a part of the fray by keeping my gas tank at ¾ or more full during winter months. 

And if you do get stranded and you’re stuck in your car, it’s ok to run the heat! However, and this is a big one, if your car is in a snowbank and your exhaust pipe is blocked it can be deadly! When there’s not space for your exhaust to filter out from your pipe and away from your car it will sometimes travel underneath your car, into your wheel wells, and fill your car cabin up. This is dangerous – so if you’re stuck for an extended period of time only run your car for about 15 minutes per hour and periodically get out to scoop snow away from the exhaust pipe.

If you’re stuck in a really big snowstorm and you’re worried people won’t see you, consider finding something brightly colored to have hanging out of your door, on your rear view mirror, or on the windshield wipers so that people will know you’re in there even from afar. Share your location with a friend so that you can get help.

One last note about car safety, and this is less about being stranded and more just about living in cold temps, don’t pour hot water on your windshield to defrost it. It can literally crack your windshield! Alternatives include a scraper (of course, but who has one of those in the south?), a credit card, or my personal favorite which is a ziploc bag filled with warm water. You just rub that across the windshield and it melts the ice without cracking the window. No mess, no fuss, no damage. 


So that’s it, those are my suggestions. I hope you don’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed by this list, you don’t have to do every single thing. Pick a few that make sense to you and implement them into your life. Check your stock of supplies at the outset of winter and replenish whatever you need once a year. Nothing that I do to prepare is particularly expensive per se, but it’s impossible to get things delivered to your house if you wait to place the order until it is actively snowing and sleeting outside.

I hope this helps! Stay warm & stay safe.

PS- this post is not sponsored at all, I’m including links to products I have personally purchased but I won’t get any benefit from you clicking on or purchasing any links whatsoever. Ace Hardware, Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, and Target will all have some or all of the items listed above.

Looking Back on 2021

My daughter Delilah photographed in January 2021

What an odd year! It was hard, challenging, at times scary and confusing, but simultaneously my favorite year yet. That’s because in addition to all the great work I’ve done this year – teaching art at the High Museum of Art, writing stories and doing photography for local publications, illustrations used in newspapers, photo and video for real estate professionals, and a ton of family photography – I’ve also been able to spend a ton of time with my daughter.

Time is one of the most precious things in life, so being afforded the opportunity to work from home and in off hours has allowed me to be present for her in a way that really resonates with my soul.

I thought this would be a good time to share some of my favorite works from 2021! Hope everyone is feeling optimistic and hopeful leading into 2022. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to book a session or have a story idea!

From Tradition to Tuition

How Trees for Tuition is Helping Students Pay for College

In 2015 two 16 year old best friends, Jack Faught and Calder Johnson, decided to start their own Christmas tree business to earn a little extra money for college. They launched Trees for Tuition that year with only 30 trees available for delivery. The business has grown since that first season, returning to a lot at the Arizona Soccer Fields each year, and in 2021 they expanded to include a second location at Howard Middle School in Inman Park. 

Jack, now 22, and Calder, who recently turned 23, have been friends since they met in first grade at Mary Lin Elementary. They grew up attending schools in the Atlanta Public School System, later Inman Middle and Grady High School – now Midtown High School – before enrolling at the University of Georgia where they lived together as roommates. Throughout those formative years, and despite the pressures of school and later college, Jack and Calder continued to develop Trees for Tuition. With each year they solved more problems, sought new opportunities, and found ways to differentiate their business from others in town. 

“The free delivery thing was what really got us started,” said Calder. “People were interested and when we told our story; that we were two high school students saving up money for college… it seemed like a no brainer.” 

Jack and Calder also offer tree stand rentals, a recycling program, and as of 2021 they launched a new website which makes ordering trees incredibly easy. These marketing efforts were made possible when Calder actually took a semester off of school and pushed his graduation to the summer in order to focus on developing their website and growing the business. 

Their unconventional business model, and the fact that they almost exclusively hire high school and college-age workers for their lots, are not the only things that set Trees for Tuition apart from the rest. 

“Last year we started donating to Achieve Atlanta which is a scholarship that benefits APS graduates,” said Jack. “We were able to donate almost $3000 last year, and this year we are starting our own scholarship with a goal of $8000 and we are hoping to blow that out of the water.” 

Their initial goal would fund 4 scholarships of $2000 each, and applications are open to any APS senior or undergraduate college student who graduated from APS schools. Current students can apply today by visiting TreesforTuition.org. Their scholarship program does not have GPA or financial need requirements. Instead, recipients are chosen after they submit a short essay in which they explain how they wish to make the world a better place. 

“During our senior year we were like, ‘ok we want to keep this going, make the brand sustainable, so how can we keep doing it?’ We arrived at the obvious conclusion of keeping the tuition aspect of the business going,” said Jack. 

“We don’t want it to just be limited to tuition because the main expenses we faced when we were in college were rent and food,” Calder explained. “We want these students to be able to use the money for anything.” 

While there are currently scholarship and grant opportunities available to students, the prevalent requirements of demonstrated financial need as judged by their parents’ bank accounts or their performance on standardized exams can be limiting. “Because how much money your parents make doesn’t always correlate to how much money you get for your college tuition,” said Calder. 

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of annual Christmas tree buying, consider this: instead of leaving your tree at the curb after the holiday season, those who opt for Trees for Tuition’s tree stand rental and recycling program can rest easy knowing their discarded tree will be turned into mulch and distributed at local parks throughout the Atlanta area. Additionally, their Tree for a Tree program aims to plant new trees to offset those that they sell. In 2020, through a partnership with One Tree Planted, Trees for Tuition was able to plant 450 trees in Uganda after their holiday season. Aiming for at least 2,000 trees in 2021, they are committed to finding ways to give back while also building their business. 

“We are not a charity, it is a for profit business,” clarified Calder. “But it is a socially responsible company. We pay ourselves to operate this, because we have to live, that’s the opportunity cost. We could have graduated and gotten 9-to-5s, but we couldn’t have done this, too.”

During the 2020 season, in the midst of finals during their senior year at UGA, Jack and Calder were floored when they sold all 500 of their trees before December 1. “When we saw how quickly we sold 500, which is more than we had ever sold, we knew that this year we could really go big with this thing,” said Jack. They knew then that sourcing more trees was of paramount importance. 

They have since lined up partnerships with farmers who have agreed to continuously supply their lots with new trees throughout the days leading up to Christmas. As an added bonus– they not only offer fragrant and beautiful Fraser Firs grown on 3000 beautiful acres in North Carolina, but through an exchange program with farms in Oregon, Trees for Tuition is able to carry Noble Firs as well. 

“We are still just super involved in all the manual labor of it,” said Jack. “It’s a lot of hard work. We built all the stands and everything. We try to do everything ourselves.” 

For a little more than a month every year Jack and Calder pull extremely long hours. Their normal schedule consists of shifts that last from 6am to 10pm. Perpetually covered in sap, oftentimes sporting a tree-related injury, these two remarkable young men are still somehow endlessly polite, helpful, kind, and hoping to make the world a better place, one Christmas tree at a time. 

Originally written for Homestead Stories

Sharing The Love

Volunteering Helps To Feed the Needy & Soothe the Soul

The theme of this month is thankfulness, and today I am not only thankful for all that I have but also for those who devote their lives to giving back to those in need. It should come as no surprise that the pandemic has increased food insecurity across demographics. Grief, job instability, illness, and isolation have thrown many Atlantans into a state of crisis, and when you can’t find enough food to eat that makes everything far harder.

Traditionally, this time of year brings up many feelings of altruism. As we gather around our tables enjoying meals prepared by and shared with loved ones on dark, chilly evenings, the knowledge that others might not have a holiday meal or food in their cupboards is striking in contrast. Volunteering at a food bank, soup kitchen, or stocking a local free pantry are all wonderful ways to share the love with those who might not otherwise have access to healthy, fresh food.

I spoke with Tim Adkins, Director of Marketing and Communications for Hands On Atlanta about Atlanta’s hunger problem and what is being done to address it.  “We can’t keep up with the need from our partners, specifically our food pantry partners,” said Adkins. Between August of 2020 and July of 2021, Hands On Atlanta has supplied more than 9,500 volunteers to support the Atlanta Community Food Bank as they distribute a whopping 8.6 million meals to 22 food pantries located throughout the city and far into the suburbs. Additionally, Hands On Atlanta’s Meals 4 Kids program and COVID-19 specific relief efforts have supplied 8,000 meals to families in that same timeframe.

“Last year we engaged about 15,000 people in service to serve approximately 130,000 hours in the community,” Adkins explained, and while Hands On Atlanta is an organization dedicated to a myriad of nonprofits in a variety of sectors, Adkins says that the pandemic has really highlighted an increased need specifically centered around food insecurity. Of those 15,000 volunteers engaged by Hands On Atlanta nearly 10,000 were focused on providing healthy meals to those in need. 

Calling the issue “just staggering,” Adkins and the Hands On Atlanta team are committed to activating people, both as individuals and within the context of corporate teams, in an effort to facilitate the distribution of donations from organizations to the communities that need them.

“We really wanted to lean in,” said Adkins, who says he has seen exponential growth in the amount of food that has come into the Food Bank and then back out into the community. 

While one of the biggest impacts can be seen from large companies bringing in teams of employees to volunteer their time, COVID has restricted those opportunities and today most volunteering efforts employ less than 50 people at a time. Nonprofits such as Urban Recipe and the Community Assistance Center regularly post their opportunities with Hands On Atlanta, but are typically seeking between four to six volunteers for a given activation. 

Some local companies that have regularly given back through volunteering with Hands On Atlanta include Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, the Coca-Cola Company, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, United Postal Service, NCR, and the Norfolk Southern Railroad. 

“Even if you couldn’t physically help, there are things you can do to be supportive like writing a letter in support of someone who may have fallen on hard times. It really does mean a lot, just having some encouragement means a lot. To really understand why, and why it matters, is to create empathy,” said Adkins. And it’s not only good for the community, giving back has benefits for the volunteer as well. 

“Studies have shown that volunteering meets all of the things that the pandemic has caused: isolation, stress, feeling no sense of purpose,” Adkins continued. “It has been proven that volunteering gives you confidence, a sense of community, and a sense of purpose. There is intrinsic value as well, it’s great for the community but also for the individual.”

As we talked, Adkins shared a few local partners that he feels are making great strides in the battle against hunger. Free99Fridge.com, Second Helpings Atlanta – Assemble and Pack Food Donations, and Open Hand Atlanta are all dedicated to providing not only non-perishable and shelf-stable foods, but also fresh fruit, produce, and whole meals to those in need throughout the city. 

So this year, if you find that you’ve got enough love to share, whether it be in the form of food or monetary donations or through actual physical assistance to soup kitchen, food pantries, and all of the auxiliary organizations that support the efforts to get food into the hands of those who need it, there are some truly remarkable ways you can aid in the fight against food insecurity. 

Filtered results for all food insecurity related projects on Hands On Atlanta’s calendar

Volunteer with Atlanta Community Food Bank as an individual or a group

Virtual Meals on Wheels which includes projects people can do from home

Thanksgiving Dinner and Coat Giveaway with Area in Need Missionary House on November 13 and 20

The Pantry at Chapelhill Atlanta on November 20

Thanksgiving Event and Mobile Food Pantry Distribution with Streetwise on November 20

Grady Fresh Food Cart with Grady Health System in Brookhaven on November 24

Stock the Pantry with Grace Community Food Pantry on November 24

Thanksgiving Give Back with SSA, delivering nourishing meals to low-income and homebound seniors in Fulton County on November 20 (Registration required by November 15)

Giving Tuesday with Hosea Helps, this annual Thanksgiving drive-through event at the Georgia World Congress Center Blue Parking Lot seeks volunteers age 12+ to fill 10 shifts on November 19

Volunteer with the Atlanta Mission, serve meals to men residing at The Shepherd’s Inn or the women and children at My Sister’s House, many dates available

Originally written for Homestead Stories

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

Introducing Atlanta’s Newest Ghost Tour & Halloween Roundup

It’s spooky season, folks! As we round the corner into October I find myself greatly anticipating the joy of all things autumn. And yes, that means pumpkin pie and apple cider, but this month it also means scary movies, creative costumes, and – let’s be honest – way too much candy.

Megan Hodgkiss, provided

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Megan Hodgkiss about an exciting addition to the Atlanta Halloween festivities: the debut of the Little 5 Points Ghost Tour. Hodgkiss has been instrumental in the formation of this tour, both by conducting extensive research and interviews about the area, compiling the ghost stories, on-boarding guides, and planning the event itself. 

Hodgkiss first became associated with the Little 5 Points Ghost Tour in March of 2021 when she participated in the Atlanta Preservation Center’s ‘Phoenix Flies’ walking tour of Little 5 Points. There she met the Little 5 Points Business Association President Kelly Stocks and the two began talking about the potential of hosting guided ghost tours in the area this fall. “I said that I’d love to help and be involved — and the rest is history!” said Hodgkiss. “I’m so excited to be a part of the first annual Little 5 Points Ghost Tour.”

In her research, she discovered a number of stories about the apparitions in the area. Notable mentions include a mischievous spirit who attempts to thwart performances at 7 Stages, a beloved fallen cop who died tragically in the area and is remembered by the naming of the plaza in his honor, and a runaway teenage girl who was killed amidst a wild party at Georgia’s first pagan congregation, the House of Ravenwood. The mile-long tour lasts for about 1.5 hours and tours begin at 7PM and 9PM. 

Photos by Isadora Pennington

Hodgkiss has a distinct affinity for haunted tours, and that knowledge has aided her in developing the Little 5 Points Ghost Tours. Her favorite haunted tours include those in Savannah, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. “And now, I can add Little 5 Points to that list.“ Throughout the month of October, so-called “spirit guides” will lead groups through the historic neighborhood and lend unique insight to the colorful characters who linger long beyond their dying breath. 

Learn more and register for a tour by visiting the website.


SPOOKTACULAR OCTOBER

Atlanta has a ton of fun and unique Halloween offerings. Whether you want the full fright experience, something more kid-friendly, or just an opportunity to dress up and have drinks with friends, there’s a little something for everyone. 

Below are some of my favorite Halloween events. Enjoy… if you dare!

Woodland Spirits at Fernbank Museum
Inspired by literature’s portrayal of dark forests, this all-ages Halloween activity features ghostly figures and sculptures, lurking spirits, a “monster garden,” and more sprinkled throughout the 10 acres of Wildwood Forest. Nature lovers can learn about nocturnal creatures and night-blooming plants during a special Nocturnal Activity: Life After Dark activity. You can expect to hear about bats, owls, scorpions, opossums, racoons, moths, and more. Learn more at the Fernbank Website

Additional special themed days at Fernbank include:
Creepy Crawlies, all about bugs! October 16, 10AM to 1PM
Bugs, Bats & Bones, Halloween classics. October 23, 10AM to 1PM
Dinosaur Trick-or-Treat, because, of course! Costumes encouraged. October 30, 10AM to 1PM

Decatur Ghost Tours
While this ghostly adventure is technically available year-round, there’s just something extra spooky about this time of year, don’t you think? The highly rated Decatur Ghost Tour is led by professional psychic medium and paranormal investigator Boo Newell. “Decatur’s dead are pretty restless” reads the website, and numerous reviews shared online describe personal encounters for those embarking on the ghost tours. Lasting approximately 2 to 2.5 hours, the walking tour is about one mile of paved sidewalks. Go for a tour, if you dare. More information and tickets available on their website

Trunk or Treat at Brook Run Park
Food trucks, candy, and costumes, all set to the tunes of an Elton John tribute band will take over Brook Run Park in Dunwoody on October 28 from 5PM to 8PM. This free event is open to the public, so come out in your Halloween best and enjoy a fun afternoon perfect for the whole family. 

The Center for Puppetry Arts Presents The Ghastly Dreadfuls 
Combining ghost stories, grim humor, catchy tunes, and a spooky aesthetic, the puppet masters will perform a range of stories and content from silly to serious. Billed as “vaudeville-esque humor, horror and hijinx, a reminder of what has always made Halloween so creepy and fun,” this event is both creepy and funny. Note, proof of vaccination and masks are required to attend this event. See dates, book tickets, and learn more here

Also at the Center for Puppetry Arts, A Monster Mash!
Come in costume and decorate goblins, jack-o-lanters, and skeletons. Starting October 30 at 10AM, this event is suitable for kids aged 6-10. 

Spooky Mill at Autrey Mill Nature Preserve
The beautiful natural surrounds of the Autrey Mill Nature Preserve will be transformed to a fun-for-all Halloween party on October 30. Attractions include a bouncy house, carnival games, crafts, pumpkin painting, and a haunted hike. “Junior Spooky” is from 1PM to 4PM, while “Ooky Spooky” will take place from 6PM to 9PM. Given all the ruins and historic buildings on the property, you might just have a supernatural experience of your own! Learn more on the Autrey Mill website

Pumpkin Festival at Stone Mountain Park
An Atlanta-area fall favorite, visitors can enjoy live shows, spooky displays, classic storybook characters, a pie eating contest, and park attractions such as the Great Locomotive Chase, Adventure Golf, and the Scenic Railroad. Once night falls, the park will debut a brand new Nighttime Parade and, you guessed it, a Pumpkin Lasershow. Learn more here

Get Your Fright on At Netherworld
Is there anyone in Atlanta who isn’t familiar with Netherworld? This haunted house returns year after year to provide some of the best jump scares and bone-chilling horror in the area. In Rise of the Netherspawn, ancient creatures enlist an army of shadow figures deep in the caverns to terrify and taunt visitors who dare enter this nightmare world. If classic haunted houses aren’t your jam, take it up a notch with their new 3D experience where you will explore a top-secret facility full of monsters. If you think you can handle it, check out their website for more information and tickets. 

Attend an Actual Séance at the Wren’s Nest
Yes, you read that right. At 8PM on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the month of October, a psychic medium will conduct an actual séance in an attempt to speak with the dead. This family-friendly event also features a “spirited” mystery show. Learn more and buy tickets here

Boo at the Zoo
One of Atlanta’s most treasured Halloween festivities, Boo at the Zoo returns to Zoo Atlanta with costumes, crafts, dance parties, games, trick or treating, and of course plenty of fun animal sightings. Come in costume and experience a one-of-a-kind Halloween event in “Zoo Boo Town.” Buy tickets at the Zoo Atlanta website.

Little 5 Points Monsterfest
In lieu of the hallowed Halloween Parade, cancelled this year due to COVID, Little 5 Points is hosting a unique Monsterfest on October 16-17. Visitors can pick up a map to hunt for monsters in the area in a unique monster hunt created by none other than the monster man himself, Shane Morton, also known as Professor Morte. There will also be a haunted market with more than 60 vendors on Euclid, a costume contest, and pop up performances. Learn more here.

Candlelight Halloween Concerts at the Trolley Barn
Classical music lovers will adore this open air performance by the Listesto String Quartet at the historic Trolley Barn in Inman Park. Playing renditions of classic Halloween tunes such as “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and even the Ghostbusters theme, this event offers a unique melding of classical music stylings and popular Halloween music. Multiple dates, go online for more info. 

Halloween in the Highlands
This 21+ event features bar hopping, a costume contest with $1000 top prize, specials, complimentary shots, DJs, and live music spread throughout more than 10 locations in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood. While there are plenty of Halloween-themed bar hops, this exclusive party will take place on October 26 and lasts until 2AM. Don’t wait, this event sells out every year and attracts 1000s of party goers dressed up in their best Halloween garb. Learn more and buy tickets today while you still can.

Goblins in the Garden
The Atlanta Botanical Gardens has put together a day of fun and festivities throughout their beautifully manicured grounds on October 24 from 10AM to 4PM. Show off your costumes on the Goblin Runway, enjoy traditional Mexican dances performed by Alma Mexicana (bring a blanket!), decorate pumpkins, and ride on both a pony AND a train! More information can be found on the Atlanta Botanical Gardens website

Legends and Lore Tour at Rhodes Hall
One of Atlanta’s most haunted locales, Rhodes Hall was built in 1904 and has been a hotbed of paranormal activity for many years. Returning by popular demand, the Legends and Lore tour offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the chills and thrills of the “Castle on Peachtree” after dark. Rhodes Hall has been the subject of many paranormal investigations and haunted walking tours of Atlanta. Multiple tour times, October 27-29. More info & tickets can be found here

36th Annual Halloween Hike at the Chattahoochee Nature Center
On October 22, 23, 29, and 30, from 6 to 9PM, the Chattahoochee Nature Center is offering a guided night hike that features music, crafts, campfire, and other non-scary Halloween fun. Advanced tickets are required, and arrive early to ensure your spot on the hike. Visit the Chattahoochee Nature Center website to learn more.  

Capturing the Spirit of Oakland
Historic tours of the Oakland Cemetery are one of Atlanta’s most beloved annual traditions. Returning for its 15th year, this October’s programs bring to life the stories of the cemetery’s most notorious occupants in an after-dark tour. Intended to “enlighten rather than frighten,” these tours are led by costumed docents who will show you around the sprawling cemetery where you will see actors portraying the residents who are buried there. Guests will also be able to enjoy music and are encouraged to arrive in their best costumes to fully embrace the holiday spirit. VIP tickets include a 3-course meal at the nearby Firepit Pizza Tavern. More info here

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Presents The Nightmare Before Christmas
Sit back and enjoy Tim Burton’s Halloween classic film with a live musical scoring performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO). With showtimes on October 29 and 30, this event offers an immersive and powerful experience for lovers of the symphony and this popular Halloween movie. Costumes encouraged! Learn more on the ASO website.

Originally written for Homestead Stories

Halloween events 2021 Atlanta Halloween 2021 Little 5 Points Ghost Tour

Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015.

New Mavericks: Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert

Aly & Amanda, photo by Isadora Pennington

Aly Migliori & Amanda Sophia Ebert, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, so they say. But of course, that isn’t always the case. In the film Knightsville, director Aly Migliori examines what can happen when the home you grew up in doesn’t quite feel like home anymore.

Knightsville tells the story of a young woman who has moved away from her Italian-American neighborhood, family and culture. The main character, Sara, played by Amanda Sophia Ebert, returns home for a traditional Catholic festival, only to be faced with the realization that she feels foreign in her familial home.

“In having familiar feelings placed within a particular Italian-American community, I hoped that Knightsville’s success was not the newness of this world, but rather the transcending commonality of human experiences,” said Aly.

Knightsville, I hope, captures a universal story within a unique world.”

Amanda Sophia is a newcomer to working in film, a fact that doesn’t deter from a strong and emotionally present performance on screen. “Aly and I met on set of the first film I’d ever shot and I was drawn to her instantly,” said Amanda. “Once we started spending time together regularly, I wanted badly to work with her on another film. Now I consider her family.”

Coming from a background of stage acting, Amanda adapted her performance style to embrace a more naturalistic screen presence. She set out with a goal of becoming more comfortable in front of the camera, and was emboldened by her faith in Aly as a director. “As the process went on, though, it became really important to me to tell the story of the community of Knightsville,” said Amanda, “because the sense of pride and tradition is so strong and so special.”

Ultimately, I believe that some of Amanda’s newness to the Italian-American culture in Knightsville added a level of authenticity to her portrayal of otherness that the main character, Sara, feels upon her return to her hometown.

“I loved getting to know and see the town of Knighstville. It sounds cliche but the end is always hard for me; it’s sad to let go of a character you’ve worked so hard to build that has become such a part of you,” said Amanda. The experience of participating in this production has clearly affected her beyond just the necessary memorization of lines and blocking, leaving her with a connection to those she worked with and the story that she told.

When asked what part of the process she finds the most enjoyable, Aly told me that it was working with others that stood out in her mind. “My favorite part is collaborating, and lucky for filmmakers, collaboration happens from pre-production on through the festival circuit.”

Collaboration doesn’t just happen on the smaller scale within the cast and crew, but can also expand to enlist help from a variety of outside sources. “To have the entire community come together to facilitate the production of this film, from allowing us to stage the parade with the actual Madonna Della Civita statue to letting us have our own float in the actual parade, that was the most enlivening experience of all,” Aly told me.

I asked Aly whether she thought that being a female director had any impact on the result of the film and her acceptance within the community that she filmed. “I think being a female in film is a great opportunity,” she said. “I am aligned with a different perspective than the standard film, and in embodying that view in my work, I give my films a nontraditional narrative and voyeurism.”

Aly is also a member of the NY chapter of Film Fatales, a female directing group founded by Leah Meyerhoff, who was also a producer on Knightsville. Aly explained that the group seeks to foster an ever-growing community of women directors. It was through her connections to this group that she was able to cast Gina Piersanti and Altagracia Guzman, as well. But the group does more than just connect the pieces between like-minded women in the film industry, it has a larger purpose as well.

“It also asks the film community at large to acknowledge the successes and talents from female directors, while challenging the industry to do something about it,” said Aly.

The goals set forth from the Film Fatales group fit in quite nicely with the intentions of the Atlanta based New Mavericks organization, as well. Knightsville was screened as a part of the New Mavericks programming at the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival, and Aly and Amanda were able to attend screenings, meetings, and make connections with other female film professionals.

“My favorite experience was the New Mavericks dinner and shorts block,” Aly told me. “Having the opportunity to be onstage with brilliant, creative, and empowered women only serves further to inspire me. I look forward to a time where this is not a novelty, but I thank Atlanta Film Festival for recognizing now the need to showcase films not only directed by women, but featuring female protagonists.”

So, what’s next for these two? Aly is currently working on writing the feature-length film version of Knightsville, a project that she says will carry elements from this initial short film. “And I’m taking Amanda with me,” Aly said. “She doesn’t have a choice.”

As for Amanda, her current projects include production and acting in a play called Closer as well as working towards launching a women’s web magazine, among other film and theater projects. “I will absolutely work with Aly in the future, hopefully on Knightsville as a feature,” said Amanda.

Knightsville has screened at the Atlanta Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Sarasota Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, IFF Boston, Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival, and Skyway Film Festival. You can see a trailer online and learn more about the film by going to their website.

-Is