Vacationing Artfully

Ferry passing by the The Vasa Museum in Stockholm Sweden

We’ve heard that vacations are a good thing.

Just last month, Robin reminded us of the bevy of benefits workers enjoy from taking even one day of vacation.

Thanks to the recent PTO reform, SAM employees have more opportunities than ever to get out of the office for a little sun and fun.

One department that’s taking advantage of vacation season is Graphics. From European excursions to roller coasters from another realm, there has been no shortage of adventure with our local artists.


Nyhavn Canal in Copenhagen, Denmark

Tour d’Europe – Terry

In May, Senior Graphic Designer Terry Wirt took his first voyage to Europe.

Terry and his wife, Allison, decided to celebrate their anniversary and Terry’s birthday with a two-week tour of Scandinavia. The first stop was in Gothenburg, one of the country’s oldest cities. It’s known for its Viking trade routes.

“This trip was the first time that I realized how young America is,” Terry said. “Everything in Europe seems so much older, even the streets and buildings.”

The rest of the trip consisted of museums, tours, and sightseeing on foot. One of Terry’s favorite memories was of the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

Terry explained how the museum was home to a fully reconstructed warship from the 1600s. The king who commissioned the ship insisted that it be richly decorated as a symbol of Swedish wealth and power. But to his dismay, it proved a little too ornate. The ship sank on its maiden voyage, just 1,300 yards from where it launched.

Given that this was Terry’s first European excursion, he shared his biggest misconceptions about American’s eastern neighbors.

“One thing I noticed was that everyone there rode public transportation,” Terry said. “It’s pretty unusual here. It also seemed like people kept to themselves more. You didn’t just walk up to a stranger and start talking like you would in America, especially in the South.”

Terry and Allison ended their trip in Denmark, seeing sights like the Nyhavn Canal and a Viking settlement that dates back to 1030 A.D.


Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Roller Coaster Rocker – Mark

Senior Graphic Designer Mark Marquis made a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida this summer.

This wasn’t Mark’s first visit, but it had been several years since he had been to the park. He was excited to return and see the developments in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

During his last visit, the park had just built Islands of Adventure. It wasn’t even open yet. But Mark’s curiosity got the best of him, and he decided to peek inside just for fun. To his surprise, he stumbled upon the soft opening and got to experience the park before most anyone else.

It was this lucky streak that he wanted to recreate on his 2019 trip. In fact, Mark decided to go solo since he already had the days off and couldn’t line up schedules with the original invitees.

“This was my first time going on a trip without anyone,” Mark said. “I loved it. I didn’t have to worry about keeping up with someone else’s pace or schedule, and I could go back to the hotel for a break whenever I wanted.”

Just days before Mark arrived at Universal, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure had opened. The new roller coaster was a massive hit, but with technical and logistical hurdles, it had an average wait time of 10 to 14 hours.

“I went not expecting to ride the motorbike coaster,” Mark said. “The day I walked by, the signs said it was closed for the rest of the afternoon, and people had already started scattering.”

But Mark wasn’t so easily deterred. Each time he would near the ride, he glanced inside.

Finally, he saw people returning to the line and discovered it had covertly reopened.

Mark waited about 3.5 hours to ride the roller coaster. A small price to pay, in his opinion.


Reading Terminal Market in Philidelphia, PA

Fun in Philly – Holly Bl.

Halfway through June, Graphic Designer Holly Blalock and her husband took a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This was Holly’s first trip to the City of Brotherly Love. She stayed in an Airbnb in the Northern Liberties area of the city. While there, she toured food and art offerings around town.

“I really enjoyed the art museum and the impressionist exhibit they had on display,” Holly said. “I saw some fantastic works by Monet and Van Gogh. Impressionism is one of my favorite movements.”

Holly shared her favorite part of the trip, which was when she visited Reading Terminal Market.

“It was like the Pizitz on steroids,” Holly said.

She also visited the Eastern State Penitentiary, the United States’ first prison. Outdating Alcatraz, the Pennsylvania prison is rife with ghostly vibes that Holly definitely could feel. In fact, the retired prison transforms into a haunted house each Halloween season.

Since this was Holly’s first time in Philly, she naturally had a few preconceived ideas on what the city would be like. Her biggest shock came from the pace of living.

“I expected Philadelphia to be much faster-paced,” Holly said. “It was crowded in places, but it wasn’t the same as somewhere like New York.”


SAM’s graphics team has taken advantage of all that summer vacations have to offer. If you’ve been on any exciting trips lately, make sure to share for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Chicken Wing Festival Supports Adult Literacy

Kickin' Chicken Wings

Six years ago, Graphic Designer Holly Blalock went on a whim and accepted an invite to an annual fundraising event – the Girlfriend Gala. Expecting a night of reverie amongst friends, she instead found a calling that would remain with her for nearly half a decade.

A History of Literacy

The event Blalock attended was held in support of the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. This organization’s mission – to teach reading and writing skills to illiterate adults and to those for whom English is not the native tongue – touched Blalock at her core. Yearning to participate in the cause, she joined the council as an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) tutor. She spent several months with an ensemble of 10 students, a group Blalock described as a melting pot of nationalities and dialects. Yet, as fulfilling as her impartment of linguistical knowledge on these expatriates was, she simply could not keep up with the time demands of being a full-scale tutor. Blalock likened the experience – with its lesson plans, grading and instruction – to having a second job.

Desperate to remain involved, yet unable to continue teaching, Blalock discovered the council’s Junior Board. As a Junior Board member, she is still able to participate in the organization’s affairs and offer her skills whenever she can.

“It is so essential that this type of support exist for illiterate adults, especially if they have children at home,” Blalock said. “Without being able to read or write, it’s difficult for them to help their kids in school and navigate through general life.”

It is through her Junior Board membership that Blalock became involved with the organization’s newest fundraiser, the Kickin’ Chicken Wing Fest.

Chicken Wing Festival on August 18

Two years ago, the Literacy Council’s president came up with a novel idea. Birmingham, with its predilection for foodie showcases and brewery bashes, was missing one thing: a chicken wing festival.

The nascent idea quickly sprouted into a notable event. Fliers were printed, wings were baked and the first annual Kickin’ Chicken Wing Fest was a raging success.

Now, in its second iteration, the Literacy Council announces the return of the chicken wing festival on Friday, August 18 at Ghost Train Brewing Co.

At the festival, guests will enjoy all-you-can-eat wings (while they last), live music, a kids’ zone and craft beer available for purchase. The event runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., with music beginning at 2 p.m. Tickets are available for $15 until August 10, after which they increase to $20. Local music groups Riverbend and Camryn Grace will perform.

This festival is also a cook-off, meaning guests will enjoy a variety of fried, smoked and baked wings in differing categories of flavor and heat. Judges from esteemed female culinary group Les Dames d’Escoffier will be present to select the winner of the cook-off.

How Wings Help

While your palette certainly won’t mind an afternoon of wing feasting, there is a far greater benefit that comes from your support of this event.

Money raised goes directly to the Literacy Council’s educational initiatives. The majority of programs offered do not charge fees, so events like this help to buy books, computers and test preparation materials. In addition to ESL courses, the organization offers GED prep classes, opening career opportunities for people in our community.

Piggly Wiggly donates all wings and water for the event, while Ghost Train provides the space and Pepsi sponsors the kids’ zone. Consequentially, event costs are minimalized, allowing for as much money as possible to go toward educating Central Alabama citizens.

Blalock encourages everyone to consider participating in this unique event. It serves as a well-timed decrescendo to summer and is poised to become a favorite among Birmingham festivals.