Camo Fail — and Happy Birthday!

Photo by Danielle McCann, Florence, Ala.

Our younger grandson  turned 1 year old this past weekend and my son-in-law’s family hosted a joyous party on a perfect fall afternoon. Older Daughter, mom to the birthday boy, asked one of her friends who’s a super photographer, Danielle McCann,  to come and take photos. This was the best idea ever,  because that meant we adoring relatives could simply stand around and admire instead of stressing about preserving precious moments for posterity. Well done, Older Daughter! And well done, Danielle (Or “DeeDee” as she’s known at our house) for these wonderful photos. And well done Younger Daughter, too, who couldn’t resist the creative forces that were unleashed and so wrote this caption for the photo above: “As he stood from the ashes of the dying trees, the Young Child suddenly realized his camouflage had failed him. He froze. But the game was over. ‘Curse you, Robin’s Egg Blue!! CURSE YOUUU!!!'” My family …

Why I Should Never Write About Fashion

You know how you get dressed in the morning and you think you look perfect respectable and even nice but then somehow you get a glimpse of what you REALLY look like and It Is Not Good and you wonder “Why did I think I should wear that?” Yes. You know what I’m talking about. (Un)luckily, I got this opportunity recently when I covered a corporate cooking competition for a feature story for the TimesDaily newspaper in Florence, Ala. It was a hot summery day outside but I knew it would be below freezing in the building where we’d be, so I dressed in layers — that’s me in the pink pants and white sweater, taking notes. (Also, if you wear a white jacket/sweater to a cooking thing, be prepared to answer such questions as “Excuse me, but where’s the milk?” and “Do you think we should saute or broil this?”) From the front (photo on the left), you can see that my outfit works okay. Not the most flattering, but okay. However, from a side view, you can see that I should have never left the house in this and should be condemned to watching extra reruns of “What Not To Wear.” This is what happens when you wear six layers of clothing — underwear, jeans, camisole, belt, top and white droopy sweater. Also, when you eat cupcakes for breakfast. But I mainly blame fashion.

Friends Bearing Presents

Presents! I love presents! Particularly the unexpected kind — the kind that somebody gives you just because & for no reason, the kind that make you feel special because somebody thought of you and went to the trouble to do something for you. Such as that wonderful little box of “Pocket Espresso To Go.” A friend and her husband, who are enthusiastic travelers, found these adorable little packets of espresso AND chocolate in Italy and brought one back for me. I especially am tickled with the coffee pitcher on the package — it seems so … Italian! I also received a trio of some of my favorite things when I helped host a wedding shower for a friend’s daughter. Are hostess gifts a Southern thing? It’s times like this when my native non-Southerness comes out because I always forget about hostess gifts and then when I receive one I’m thrilled and surprised and then of course I mentally run through all the times I should have given hostess gifts and I wonder, “Did I?” Anyway, our mother-of-the-bride friend is a gracious native Southerner and ALWAYS does the correct thing. She knows that we all are crazy about her 1) hand-knitted dish cloths, 2) homemade plum-fig jam and 2) seasoning mix made from her own dried herbs, so that’s what she gave us when we hosted a shower for her daughter. How did I end up with such sweet and thoughtful friends? (Reminder to self: Give people more presents.)

De-Cluttering

In honor of back-to-school re-organizing, I’m de-cluttering the random chaos that tends to take over my brain and leaves me unable to do even the simplest of tasks. (“Sweetie,” husband JP says to me, patiently, “is there some specific reason why you’re burning dinner?”) I mean, the blogosphere here graciously has gifted us with infinite white space to fill up with all my rabid mutterings share thoughtful and meaningful insights, so we should take advantage.

First, as we’ve been doing around here all weekend, let’s check the weather. My Southern state is approaching lockdown with news of Isaac “barreling toward,” “aiming at” or “targeting” — depending on your reporter — our coastal regions and beyond. (Grammar-geek-question-the-day: Can hurricanes actually “aim?” Discuss.) But we’ve got Jim Cantore to pull us through. I adore this guy! I think he personally is responsible for an uptick in Weather Channel viewership when hurricanes threaten. (Overheard in grocery-store line: “I can’t go to lunch with you. I’m headed home to watch the hurricane.”) Cantore’s devotion to giving us the full story while getting blown around by wind and rain is legendary. His intense yet calm warnings of potential doom sort of make me want to nail plywood over our windows even though my town is hundreds of miles away.

Second, it’s Freakin’ Finally Football here in the South. And probably other places, too — we just don’t think too much about them this time of year. High schools have been at it for a couple of weeks or so, and SEC play opens on Thursday with South Carolina visiting why-are-they-still-playing-football-please-just-let-them-stick-with-basketball Vanderbilt. As much as I harbor pure and unadulterated dislike for one specific team in my conference (Hint: It is not Auburn.), I’m an enthusiastic fan of all things SEC. And this year, I even have an SEC student — Younger Daughter is in Knoxville doing grad work at the University of Tennessee. I’ve already started collecting an orange wardrobe.

Third, that thing about Younger Daughter moving to Knoxville to do grad work? She’s a grown-up woman making grown-up choices and doing just fine on her own, thank you very much, yet I still cried when we moved her two hours farther away. Of course, the tears could have been my middle-aged body protesting after a couple of days of packing and lifting and tugging and toting — although she did most of the prep work herself — but I think I unconsciously was revisiting here first day of kindergarten, which I did not handle well AT ALL. She called a couple of days later while walking around campus. “How are you doing?” I said. “Fine,” she said. “It’s just me and 30,000 other students.” Welcome to the SEC!

Fourth, my incredibly cute and adorable grandsons are … incredibly cute and adorable. The 9-month-old is calm and relaxed and constantly entertained by everything going on around him, although he already seems dissatisfied with crawling and you know he’s thinking, “So, you just put one foot in front of the other and try to not fall down, huh? I bet I could do that.” The 4-year-old, on the other hand, is the one usually doing the entertaining — why sit quietly when you can pretend to be a pirate or Batman or a ninja warrior? Dirt, mud, water and sand are his tools of choice, yet he also enjoys a good tea party and, for awhile the other day, decided his name was Trixie. This bodes well for 21st-century manhood.

Fifth, I help with a mediawriting lab at our local university. One of the first assignments this semester was a just-for-fun project to see how well the students did when they had to write something by hand. You know, with a pen and a piece of paper. Like the olden days. As they worked, I noticed they all seemed to have developed their own individual style of loopy or choppy sort-of printing — none of them used cursive anymore and most of them hadn’t written anything in cursive in years. Interesting …

More to come —

 

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Parties, Make Mimosas

We aren’t bragging or anything — well, I obviously am, although the rest of this group is much better behaved —  but a group of friends and I have pretty much perfected party-hostessing. Seems as if every year one of our children is getting married or getting engaged or graduating or having a baby, and naturally each of these occasions calls for a celebration. We can plan a party at the drop of a (wide-brimmed, ribbon-decorated white straw) hat and check off half of our to-do lists before the men in our lives — who, even after all these years, still do not understand the difference between “tea” and “brunch” — can ask “Tell me again why you pay so much for flowers when the side of the road is full of them?” Take, for example, the bridal shower a few weeks ago that we hosted in an old bank in the once-thriving and now-quiet Sweetwater business district of Florence, Ala. Recently the space had been a restaurant and the owner now rents it for events. We originally thought “rustic,” “vintage” and “weathered” were appropriate decor themes to coordinate with the exposed brick walls, tin ceilings and original woodwork. However, a professional we consulted — we’re always up for a second opinion — suggested we go sleek, sophisticated and girly instead for a visually intriguing contrast. And she was correct. The light and airy silver “bamboo” chairs paired with snowy white linens and stunningly tall tropical-flower centerpieces were the perfect touches. Add a steady supply of mimosas, good times and good friends and you’ve got a party. I told you we are good!

Yes, Shoes Do Have Soles — But Are They All ‘Super Prime?’

You know that one of the most valuable people in your contacts list (I would say “Rolodex” but, really, does anybody use one of those anymore?) is the shoe-repair person. If you find one who’s perfect for you — someone who understands your love affair with your shoes, can diagnose and fix any problem and won’t keep you separated from your favorites any longer than necessary — you are beyond lucky. I had an off-again on-again relationship with one in my former Alabama town. He was good, but he knew he had a monopoly on local shoe repair and so he wasn’t bothered in the least about keeping your good black leather boots “in the back” for more than a month or misplacing your beloved 3-inch red heels. Sigh. Happily, though, in my new Mississippi town, I’ve found the best shoe repair person ever. Ever. He’s quick. He’s thorough. And he understands. I was truly embarrassed a few weeks ago when for some reason I looked at the bottom of these blue flats — my spring go-to standard pair — and saw a hole. A hole! I’d been going around wearing shoes with a hole in them! I could feel my maternal grandmother (born in 1901, she was the last of the Victorians) gasping in her grave. But my new shoe-repair person didn’t seem at all shocked. He calmly took my shoes, gave me a receipt and told me to come back in a few days. I did, and he handed me a practically new pair, with these very cool soles I’d never seen before. They’re sort of like a secret  — I bet I’m the only person I meet today walking around with shoes made from “United States Oak — super prime.”

 

‘Hunger Games’ food

Two words: “Blue food.” That is what we’ll all be eating in the future, says Jack White, of both Pulaski, Tenn., and Los Angeles. And he should know about food and the future, since he’s the one who created the dystopian feasts in the blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games.” White, food stylist to the stars in 75 feature movies during the past 20 years, was in Florence, Ala., — home of his alma mater, the University of North Alabama — sharing “Hunger Games” and food-styling insight with an appreciative crowd of District 12 supporters. “All I know is that if you want futuristic food, make it blue,” he said, laughing. “For some reason, movie folks go crazy over blue food.” Also, apparently quail eggs will be big in the future, too, so start buying quail-egg stock immediately. Showing photos of the Hunger Games food in the making, White gave us insider information from the secret world of movie-making. For instance, every item of food has to be edible in case the director spontaneously wants the actors to eat — and this random going off-schedule, off-script and off-budget is what makes White’s job stressful anxiety-producing tons of fun since he starts working on food details MONTHS in advance. Plus, he has to produce multiple and identical items for each food scene — the single loaf of bread you see on screen has 74 exact copies nearby, waiting for stardom with the next take. And the next one … and the next one … and the … And, yes, it bothers him when scenes he spent days and $$$$ on are cut. “But I get my paycheck either way,” he said, with a grin. And, no, actors don’t actually eat the food. “At least the older, seasoned actors don’t,” White said. “The new, young actors will dive right in when they’re supposed to eat in a scene and they’ll really enjoy the food, and then the older actors will say, ‘Well, good. Now you’ve got to do the same thing 100 times today.” Dustin Hoffman, he added, usually has a fork in his hand or an empty fork coming from his mouth when he’s supposed to eat but arely actually chews and swallows. (And now I’m going to wander through “Tootsie” and check this.) Other tips from White include 1) use Israeli couscous as a good all-round basic food (it takes colors, it’s blandly pleasant tasting and it shoots well), 2) use olive oil to clean the soot off your smoked suckling pig. (Who knew?) and 3) to amaze and delight your friends, make tiny cuts in the whole cooked fish you’re serving, loosen the bones and then put it all back together for seemingly effortless fish-deboning at the table. I also learned that I really need a food stylist every day in my own kitchen, but I’m guessing that’s not going to happen. Oh, well. White spoke at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, which also was hosting its second Edible Books Festival. And, of course, one of the entries was a “Hunger Games” cake, from one of my favorite bakeries, Yummies, in Tuscumbia. Don’t you love it when cake and books and movies collide?

“The Hunger Games” and the Shoals

As soon as I re-remember how to download photos from my new iPhone to my laptop (stupid technology!), I’ll share photos of Grandson Nolan’s fourth birthday — because that’s what we proud grandmas do and we don’t really care how many adorable children you see today because we know our grandbabies are the adorablest. So there. In the meantime, though, I want to brag on my adopted home of the Shoals, in northwest Alabama. This little corner of the state has produced probably more Very Important Folks than any other two-county area anywhere. From Glencoe, the 1840s stallion from whom practically all thoroughbreds are descended, to politicians, musicians, writers, engineers, athletes, designers, actors, humanitarians and real-life heroes through the years, the Shoals is known for its talented, determined and creative people. Take the “The Hunger Games,” for instance. We’ve got four — count ’em, four — connections to this blockbuster hit movie. Muscle Shoals’ favorite duo Secret Sisters sings one of the most haunting songs on the soundtrack; Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars, half of which is Florence resident and University of North Alabama graduate John Paul White, has two tunes (one with Taylor Swift); UNA grad and middle Tennessean Jack White (no, not THAT Jack White) was the food stylist and UNA culinary student James Perini was the food-stylist assistant. Now, if only I’d been the one to figure out the next must-read young-adult fiction series, it would all be perfect. What about young wizards who are picked for a fight-to-the-death reality TV show? Or a mysterious castle that’s also a school for angsty teen vampires and a sullen but conflicted Alan Rickman? Or maybe …

Cupcakes and Tablescapes

Think a beautifully set table is beyond your creative reach this Christmas? Cringing at spending $4 for that festively decorated cupcake? Don’t worry — your holiday can be magazine-worthy AND frugal at the same time. First, some background. The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in Florence, Ala., excels at connecting with the community. The folks there have turned the FLPL into a local gathering spot. You don’t go there simply to check out a book or check on the Internet — you go there to meet, eat, drink, sip, learn, watch, view, play, shop, talk, research and more. Example: A series of free monthly programs focusing on do-it-yourself topics that might especially interest young adults. Created by two young women staffers, the series brings in local experts on such subjects as grilling, sewing pillows and pulling together your first Thanksgiving dinner. December’s program was “Christmas Cupcakes and Tablescapes” and it was so much fun. Decorating this season is bold & graphic and casual & eclectic — I was especially pleased to learn that since down-home imperfection is  hot and glossily meticulousness is out, I now am apparently completely on trend — so creating decor using what’s within reach is both stylish and smart. Take the tablescapes. I’ve never considered using flat king sheets as table linens, but what a super idea that is. Add brown craft paper for a kid-friendly table runner, place cards for a thoughtful touch and a centerpiece featuring old glass jars  with unpopped popcorn anchoring backyard-branches and you’ve got a simple yet eye-catching design. And, here’s breaking news from the cupcake front: The latest thing is to leave a border of unfrosted cake to enhance that imperfect undecorated feel. I think I’ll need to do more research on this and report back. In the meantime, make your own edible snowflakes by drawing patterns on parchment paper, melting candy-making wafers in a plastic squeeze bottle and then piping along your pattern. Adorable! Allmost tempts me to wander into the kitchen and pull out bowls and beaters and get to work. Almost …