Running with the family, or “Why is there purple stuff in your ear?”

There is a way to make your family and friends think you are the coolest person ever AND reap other priceless benefits along the way.

Running.

1 oucWait! Don’t stop reading yet. Those inspiring stories about people whose idea of exercise is walking to the fridge but then they start running and they realize they love it and months later they’re competing in marathons?

Yeah, this isn’t one of those stories.

I strongly dislike running. I mean, it hurts. A lot. And makes your mascara run. I asked a running-fanatic co-worker once why she enjoyed the sport and she got a dreamy look in her eyes and smiled and said, “You know that feeling when you can’t breathe and your legs won’t work and you have to stop by the side of the road to throw up? Gosh, I love that feeling.”

Um, no, thank you.

Besides, have you been at the start line of a race? All those toned abs are intimidating.

This is a story, however, about a kind of running – the fun kind, where you get out with your family on a Saturday morning and spend some time together and get some exercise and end up feeling as if you’ve accomplished something important while still keeping your mascara intact.

2 picI’m talking about fun runs, those one-mile races with more emphasis on “fun” than “run.”

This spring, our daughters and our 7- and 3-year-old grandsons have hit the fun-run circuit. We’ve been pelted with confetti, dug colored cornstarch out of our ears and had a blast.

We none of us are runners (except the 3-year-old, who runs the whole mile without stopping or even breathing hard — I see Olympic medals in his future) and I was apprehensive about our non-athletic status before we signed up for our first race.

But I was being silly. Everybody is encouraging and enthusiastic, and the grins on the kids’ faces as they cross the finish line to cheers and ecstatic high fives are priceless. They may even have learned something about reaching goals and trying your best and helping each other.

And as a bonus, you get say this to your friends: “Sorry I can’t go shopping with you Saturday morning. That’s a race day, you know.”

‘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 …

Florence Quilt Show

quilt-show-001Some of the best art comes from needle, thread and fabric. Prime quilt-show-004example? The annual Quilt Challenge from the Shoals Piecemakers Quilt Guild. It’s on display now at Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts in Florence, Alabama, and it’s a definite must-see. Every year, guild members challenge themselves to create quilts using a different theme. This  year’s is “My Quilting Inspiration.”  Each quilt must portray the theme and use at least one traditional quilt block. Guild members choose best of show, best use of theme and other awards, but visitors to the exhibit choose the winner of the People’s Choice Award by voting for their favorite quilt. And it’s a tough choice this year. The walls of the Kennedy-quilt-show-002Douglass gallery practically glow with these warm and intrically quilted pieces. Every year I’m amazed at the talent and skill of these quilters who create out of their imaginations and bits of cloth. How do they do that? I can barely figure out how to hem a pair of pants. And here’s the other thing. When you first meet some of these quilters, you might make the mistake of thinking they are your typical small-town, down-home, Southern moms and grandmas — and you would be wrong. These women are fierce and feisty artists who stitch their hopes and dreams and memories and stories into works the rest of us can only admire. We’re just lucky they’re willing to share with us. The exhibit is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays through Dec. 18. Admission is free. Call 256.760.6379 or visit http://www.kennedydouglasscenter.org/ for details. And while you’re in downtown Florence, don’t forget to wander around. Go visit the two lion mascots on the campus of the University of North Alabama. Grab some coffee, lunch and sweet treats at McGraw’s, Rivertown and Coffee-ol-ogy coffee shops. Dip bread in oil and herbs at Ricatoni’s or chips in salsa at Rosie’s. Have a Chicago-style hot dog or a thick and juicy steak. Shop for clothes, gifts, wine, furniture, jewelry and antiques. Meet artists and fashion designers. Check out Florence landmarks such as the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library and Pope’s Tavern Museum. Stroll down historic Wood Avenue and Walnut Street. And go see the quilts.

College Journalists

On Tuesday, my husband, John Pitts, and I led workshops at the Student Publications Boot Camp for the University of North Alabama’s student newspaper, the Flor-Ala. John did design and I did feature writing, although of course John equally could have done feature writing while design makes me throw up. (Who can handle all that stress and pressure???) Anyway, we had a great time. The world’s future is in great hands if these young people will be in charge. (Full disclosure: Older daughter, Liz, was the Flor-Ala lifestyles editor three/four years ago.) These kids are smart, engaged, enthusiatic, curious and a lot of fun — and are well on their way to making this semester of UNA student journalism a stellar one. Check it out at http://www.florala.net/home/.

On our way home, John and I wandered down Nostalgia Lane and talked about college newspapers today versus the olden days of the 1970s when we hung out in the Sidelines offices at the University of Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro. We noted differences: typewriters v. computers, drinking/smoking v. not drinking/smoking, diversity v. not much. And in the some-things-never-change category, we both agreed that college newspapers seem to attract the same motley crew of personalities no matter where or when: The free-spirit photographers, the creative art folks, the copy editor who just wants people to get their stories in on time, the writers who are serious about their jobs and the organized and determined editor who’s going to pull it all together. Aw, youth!

Anyway, thanks to the Flor-Ala adviser, MJ Jennings, for a great day. Hope we get invited back.