“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 …

I Bet My Office Beats Your Office — in Christmas Trees, at Least

This is the time of year when my real & actual look-presentable-and-sit-in-your-office job (as opposed to my less stable scramble-around-for-assignments freelancing jobs) in a local art museum pays off, because every year we host a “Trees of Christmas” exhibit featuring absolutely fabulously decorated lived Christmas trees. Individuals and groups from the community each volunteer to decorate a tree, and it’s such a highly coveted honor that we usually have waiting lists two years ahead. The trees’ themes can be practically anything — hobbies, travel, history, arts — and many non-profit groups decorate trees to symbolize their message and good works. The trees by themselves are stunning — they’re live spruce and fir from North Carolina and are at least 12 feet tall. Smells like Christmas spirit! Then the trees stand unadorned for a few days to get acclimated to their new indoor environment. Next comes the decorating, which can vary from noisy and chaotic to quiet and meticulous, depending on the decorators.  For example, a retired local educator has taken up the hobby of cutting snowflakes, and he decorated a tree with almost 800 of his favorites. He folds and cuts them by hand without a pattern, and no two are alike. He even does themes — seasons, the 12 Days of Christmas, the alphabet. He spent two days on his tree, hanging each snowflake in just the proper place and spurning all offers of help from opening-deadline-angsty staffers. In contrast, the local Master Gardeners descended on the museum 25-women strong, hauling buckets and bags and baskets full of their hand-grown and hand-dried treasures. They pretty much took over the gallery floor — but had a blast, their laughter drowning out the Christmas CDs. And then there are trees by groups such as Scope 310 Authority, which serves developmentally and intellectually disadvantaged people in community-based settings. Both counselors and clients decorated their tree with works made in art class — the first time many of the adults had ever done any art. Amazing! The Scope 310 folks were so joyful and enthusiastic about the chance to show off their art and be a part of the museum’s Christmas. Makes me smile every time I look at their tree — which is pretty much every day since all of these fantastic trees (and more) are in my very own workplace. Sort of makes up for the wonky heat/air-conditioning system.