Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mississippi Music

The Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, founded by Jackson Jim Brewer to single out legendary musicians not honored previously, recently named Jimmy Reed,the Rev. Cleophus Robinson, Blind Roosevelt Graves and the Mississippi Jook Band, Freddy Waits, Charlie Feathers and Tommy Johnson. They represented the fields of gospel, rock, R&B,jazz, country and blues, in that order.

Now retiring Brewer is handing the reins over to another Jacksonian who has plans for continuing the tradition set by the founder. Despite Brewer's consistency with his Hall of Fame (1998 til now), I've only noticed his work. Perhaps that's because I now have more time to reminisce, remember...

On a visit to Yazoo City last spring with my sister who was gathering information about the town for a magazine article, we were reminded in the chamber's museum located in an refurbished school building, that the city claimed a few blues musicians who originated there. John Lee Hooker and Arnold "Gate Mouth" Moore were the only two we recognized by name.

However, other towns around the state, notably the Delta area, keep these musicians alive through various venues.

Clarksdale, in the Delta, honor musicians with their Blues Museum. The Delta Blues and Heritage Fest held annually is one not to be missed. Despite the heat that sits with you in September, the music is deep-down great. While there you can eat at any of the three restaurants in Clarksdale owned by actor Morgan Freeman, who lives in a nearby town.

My first teaching year was spent in the Delta. Despite my college education, I hadn't ever visited the Delta, a treeless plain that used to get refreshed with the overflow of the Mississippi River. My fellow teachers and I would travel from the little town of Drew on Saturdays to Clarksdale to shop and see a movie. There was no Blues Museum, nor a Ground Zero restaurant where my husband and I ate in 2000, nothing of particular interest. Just a good movie theatre without rats running across our feet.

Quoting from the chamber website is a sketch of Delta Blues:

"Mississippi Delta Blues is globally recognized as one of the most America's important musical forms. A major catalyst for American popular culture, it exists in both a folk context and as a product of the commercial music industry. In the face of a historically brutal social experience, black folk in America affirmed their humanity by remembering and creating a rich expressive culture of poetry, tales, crafts, ritual, dance and music. This system embodied techniques of cultural transmission, transformation, adaptation and survival. Early Blues developed out of this rich fabric and cross-fertilized the work-songs, love-songs, slow drags, rags and spirituals. Delta Blues soon became the emotional and literary voice of black singers across the south."

Growing up and living in the city I was only accustomed to popular music. Once when visiting my relatives in the South Mississippi countryside, I was invited to go with cousins to a party. The music was name-denying. Three grown men with their fiddles and violins played in the small living room in the tiny house, windows open wide so guests could mill around outside, talking and dancing and singing along. As a thirteen year old I was in a strange environment. The singing made me laugh. Laugh at the plain-ness, the countryside patois that unknowingly entered my soul to remain there for a half century. Nowadays I am reminded of the music of the early century that snapped in and out of my life as a child. How wonderful now to have this music slre-recorded and available.

Thanks to Mr. Brewer for singling out these musicians and making us more aware of the rhythms that have emanated throughout this landscape for over 100 years.

Blues Music in Recent Movie

Recent articles have made me aware of the significance of music in our state. Most people know that rhythm and blues has been predominant in Mississippi for decades. Two recent articles from our local paper interested me.

Oxford-based writer Scott Baretta reported that he put together the music for The Great Debaters movie starring Denzel Washington, which is now showing nationwide. As he tells it he was called by the music supervisor G. Marq Roswell to help put together "a band that could perform music that one might have heard in the Marshall, TX area juke joints in 1935."

Baretta contacted Alvin Youngbood Hart, a Memphis-based acoustic blues master and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a NC-based threesome now reviving early African-American string band traditions. He states that this combination was intended to "recreate the sounds of the Mississippi Sheiks, the most popular African-American string band of the pre-WWII era." There is a re-recorded album "Honey, Let the Deal Go Down: The Best of the Mississippi Sheiks" that has something for everyone.

(NOTE: In case you've not heard string bands, go to for string bands and listen to "String Bands, 1926-1920" In the list find and listen to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks and you'll understand the sound Baretta was reaching for.)

As in most movies large portions of filmed material are edited to fit the time frame, and the scenes with this music is no exception. However, the soundtrack features some great work by Hart, Chocolate Drops and singer Sharon Jones of the retro soul group Dap-Kings. Later guitarist Mabon "Teenie" Hodges also of Memphis, lent his guitar of soul sounds to the final songs. Be sure and buy the CD after you've seen the great movie. You can bet this addition was enouraged by Washington, upon hearing the music and wanting more. Tofurther realism, the musicians can be seen in the scenes inside the juke joint.

See The Great Debaters and what Baretta achieved to enhance the story.

See online:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Those Christmases Long Ago

In the worst of times during World War II with rationing of gas and food, my family joined others in the United States by inviting a serviceman to lunch on December 25. For each of three Christmases we gave a soldier a few hours of attention and a home-cooked meal.

In preparation for the lunch in December, we saved a teaspoon of sugar in a special jar throughout the year. This was for two desserts. Each month Mother bought one food item. The menu never changed: turkey(sometimes a chicken), dressing, cranberry sauce, English peas, candied sweet potatoes, and pickled peaches. Dessert was Mother’s coconut cake and a chocolate pie -— made from scratch, of course.

Beginning in 1943 my grade-school sister and I, a gangly 13-year-old, planned and executed the room and table decorations: old Christmas cards dangling off a string hung above the doorways, a fresh cedar wreath on the front door, a small pine tree covered with silver balls and ringlets of construction paper (tinsel was needed for the war effort). Mother’s only white tablecloth, starched for the occasion, displayed her best dishes.

Thirty minutes before noon Dad left for the train depot, a mere 15-minute walk.Trains passed through our city to and from Memphis and New Orleans and crowds of service personnel choked the one-story building standing at the west end of downtown.

Dad’s responsibility was to select our guest. After entering the stuffy waiting room filled with cigarette smoke and the din of voices, he’d lean against a large column where he had full view. His eyes scanned each GI. He told us later how difficult it was to pick one serviceman from the hundreds milling around.

“They looked so vulnerable, so young,” he said later. “I hated that we couldn’t offer food to all of them.” He told us he searched for the young man who looked the most scared and lonely.

“You in town for awhile?” he’d ask the stranger. “There’s a hot meal waiting at my house. Want to join me and the family?” He and the hungry GI walked slowly back to our house chatting. This was Dad’s son for the day.

At the doorway we sisters rushed to embrace the soldier like he was a returning brother, pressing a small gift into his hands. At the table he could hardly swallow a bite of food, as we peppered him with questions about his life,his family, his state. After dessert and coffee we said our goodbyes reluctantly and Dad returned to the depot with a contented soldier, his duffle bag slung over one shoulder and a package of food for his supper in his hand.

Whether these young men completed their tours of duty, or died on some lonely spot of foreign soil, we never knew. However, they're a part of our memories of that time.

We sisters 10 years later

Saturday, December 08, 2007

December Surprises

The large pot of geraniums are flowering again. Multitudes of Bradford Pears, which dot downtown Madison and homes in the subdivisions, are showing their fall color of luscious crimson, other trees still have golden leaves waving in the slight breezes we occasionally have.

It's December and typical of most winters this time of the year. The temperature has risen from 50 degrees of last week to a promise of 80 degrees for today. Gives us plenty of reason to get out and see the seasonal decorations.

Not having a reason for decorating our home for children, we have to visit nearby Canton, setting for many of John Grisham's novels, for their "Sip 'N' Cider" contest as we visit stores to view their wares. Seems you visit the store, taste their favorite cider recipe, judge which store produces the best tastin' cider, listen to the music and watch the glitter of the lights.

Our local drama group will present "A Wonderful Life" for those who never get enough of that traditional story.

I just would like a cold, cold day for the 25th. Traditional songs and customs seem to disappear when the weather is warm. Yes, I like tradition and customs, but I know that I'm really celebrating a special birth. And that doesn't need good weather.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mississippi Has Redeeming Qualities

The local paper has the usual bad news on their front page. In recent weeks we Mississippians have found out that we are FIRST in obesity and in hunger. Figure that, please.

However, this Sunday on the page entitled "Viewpoint" appeared an article written by Dr. Gary Scott, who serves as Senior Research Fellow in Civic Literacy at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.(See

The headline screamed:


Whoa! I don't know many folks in the Northeast who'd have that opinion. But the article stated that in an "academic competition,2006, Mississippi's major state universities had defeated Yale."

Researchers tested some 14,000 students at random, half being seniors, the other half freshmen. In its second survey held, Miss State seniors ranked in their knowledge of civics 6th among surveyed schools, Ole Miss 10th. Although the seniors had taken few civic courses than the schools surveyed, these courses were of higher quality in the relevant subjects than Yale provided their students.

The article further stated that Yale, "despite its poor performance in teaching students about America and ranking 49th, imposes great costs on American taxpayers... The Mississippi schools, by contrast, impose relatively modest costs."

So to those folks who make fun of Southerners as not educated well enough to vote, never having read a decent newspaper, only view soap operas on television, I say, DO YOUR HOMEWORK before assuming that we're a bunch of rednecks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No More Guilt Trip

I've lived long enough to have seen the changes in the makeup of toothpaste tubes. As a child my dad's advice, always given at the appropriate time, was "Squeeze the tube from the bottom and roll upwards, ALWAYS, VIVIAN". Why that was such a difficult job, I don't know. Pinching in the middle was the only sin I willfully committed with glee during that age.

Now the tubes are plastic. Not one to submit quickly to new changes, I've struggled at every toothbrushing time to press at the bottom to no avail. I didn't want Dad's words to boom through the clouds so my neighbors could hear. Today I examined a new tube of Crest Vivid White to be sure I wasn't supposed to keep my mouth full of foam for at least 30 minutes for a whitening effect, when I saw the following:


My guilt slowly dripped through my pores. Now I have the ammunition needed upon greeting my dad at the Pearly Gates. As well as a photo of the directions. With a bit of effort you can read the words:

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Where Are My Manners?

I've noticed recently that when I receive a compliment I am so involved with the content of the compliment that I fail to say, "Thank you." What has happened to my manners? I tried the other day to think of a single reason for failing to be polite. There was none.

Living in the summer out of my environment where rarely one hears "Hello" or "Good morning" from one stranger to another, I've begun to imitate this behavior. Perhaps I'm so involved in remembering that I'm not to ask a lot of questions upon meeting , that my manners have taken a back seat. To my chagrin I've not handed out many compliments myself.

Being courteous and mannerly is a Southern tradition we like to brag about. We are open people, who will tell a stranger our life story if time is alloted.

Introductions are the likely way we'll first show our manners. Eating breakfast in a dining area we begin a conversation with the new face at the next table. Before we know it, we find commonality in family, friends, home and leave with a good feeling that another acquaintance on this earth has been made. We'll tell each other where we're heading, who'll we see, where we've been and exchange ideas about traveling. Some worthwhile tips are gained over coffee and grocery store rolls.

I remember the first summer I met new people in that part of New York I love, I introduced myself by giving my first and last name. The other person failed to tell me his/hers nor didn't reply "I'm glad to meet you", so I made a note to remind myself that is not a point of etiquette in early part of cultivating friendship. Neither is a hug on the second or third meeting. Fortunately, these awkward moments fade as we get to know each other.

I recall going to a senior breakfast once in Maine. I sat down next to a gentleman and introduced myself, saying that I had accompanied my daughter to the meal and she lived in the area. After a few moments of silence, the old gentleman leaned towards me and in a low voice said, "We Mainers don't take kindly to strangers. Since your daughter lives here, I'll tell you my name is William." Not William Smith, William Jones. Just "William." I realized when repeating this incident later that most anywhere outside the South where we are perhaps appear too familiar with strangers, that hesitancy in revealing one's self is probably a safer move. Especially, now when telling that stranger too much can lead to a possible criminal act.

My new year's resolution, beginning now is to remember to say "Thank you." I do like those compliments. But I must give the other person a compliment so I'll receive the same reply.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Vacation Scenes Remembered

Although I live on a quiet two-lane street lined with trees, changing of these leaves is no drama. I have to look at my photos taken each summer and fall to see the glorious colors that spill onto the ground as the leaves fall.

Every area of the Continental United States has its beauty. When I was first aware of who "Leaf Peepers" were, I smirked at those who paid to ride through Vermont, New Hampshire,Maine, New York and Massachusetts every year. But I smacked that smirk when I myself experienced those same exciting watercolors Mother Nature displays yearly.

On our property we often see various kinds of mushrooms. Not knowing which are eatable, we just take photos to later research. The area is full of Russian immigrants who still speak their language or in halting English. One such couple lives nearby and are often seen searching the ground for mushrooms they recognize. Do you know these two?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Catching Up on News

Returning to our Mississippi home is not an easy task. Perhaps it's aging that puts so many obstacles in our path: renovations left undone to our 40 plus year-old home, the overgrown jasmine in the yard, the leggy branches of our shrubs, the stubborn absence of memory where we placed familiar items,the extensive growth on the few dishes left in the fridge,the dust balls and spiders caught therein--too much for me to take in one week.

To solve the above problems, I visited the library, checked out a few mystery books for the first weekend home and proceeded to forget the housekeeping duties. Now that Monday has passed and I'm sitting here in the middle of the week, I have to wake up in the morning with a chipper attitude to tackle each task deliberately. I'd rather ignore household duties. Let the jasmine continue to crawl up the outside walls, the shrubs go leggy until spring, locate missing papers by chance, throw out the leftovers as I see them, wave the duster around the corners at some given hour each day, and in about a month maybe we'll be back in our routine.

Missing friends here and there...that's the problem with leaving one place and returning to another. In the first week of our return I lost a dear friend in an accident, another to illness. They are my age. A gentle reminder that there'll be more peer deaths until one day not many will be left except those younger. I often think that these deaths are God's reminder for us to delight in every day left us.
I feel invincible. But I'm not.

Returning I realize I've not missed reading our newspaper. Same trouble in our capitol city with City Hall, the mayor, the firemen, the police...not any different from those cities in New Jersey, California, or Anyplace USA. However, there were some interesting articles:

remembering the day that the rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd lost members in a plane crash in the small town of Gillsburg, MS;
that a "feisty Asian weed" named Cogon has invaded the northern town of Tupelo, Elvis' old home place. This dwarfs kudzu that is seen scrambling over hills and in ditches of some small towns. Because of its highly effective reproductive method, I'm betting someone's going to find a way to put it in a pill to overpopulate the country;

that the writer darling of our state has written another best-seller: John Grisham. We can tell you how he bought 1000 copies of his first book and tried to sell them out of the back of his car for $10. Not too many takers. Now one is for sale for $3500. A Time to Kill. Grisham has not lived in the state for years now--too many visitors dropping in unexpectedly at his Oxford home. So he moved to Virginia. I guess readers aren't as aggressive about getting a book with his signature as are we Mississipians. One story told of a Saturday signing at a local bookstore with a mile of fans waiting in the hot sun. One lady went into labor, Grisham rushed out to sign her copy so she could be taken to the hospital. The next year she stood in line with another book, and her year old baby. Ahh, we Southerners love a good story.

Outside the state, the local rag printed, in Charlotte, NC, a new exhibit at Levine Museum of the New South examines Southern stereotypes through comics and cartoons. The purpose of this exhibit is to show their own citizens, both recent and old-timers, that stereotypes are rooted in some truth. Anyone visiting the South is bound to say first, "Everyone is sooo friendly." You betcha. Returning from NY we know we're in the South when we go for breakfast at the motel and everyone says "Good morning." Or when the waitress at the luncheon diner says, "Anything else I can do for you, honey?" Ahh, sweet sounds, and no Southern gentleman thinks "harassment".

Well, that's the South for ya'.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cooler Weather--Changing Colors

We had planned back in the winter that if the weather turned cold in September, we'd immediately pack and return to the mild weather of Mississippi. Didn't happen. We hadn't finished around the cabin when the first low 40's came. Then a few days later a second night low hit. We had two down comforters on our bed and our cat between us and thought we could conquer most anything. Then before we knew it, a week had passed and now the temps are in the upper 50's at night. We are still in New York State and watching as the leaves slo-w-ly turn to reds and yellows. There's a grip in my throat when I see this natural wonder. Nothing compares in my state.

By remaining here through the month, we get to see the historic Von Steuben Festival, a gathering of German descendants parading down the small streets of Yulan, a band of old and young musicians whomping out German marches, and lovely young women of German descent sitting prettily in a convertible as participants inch slowly down the short streets. Afterwards, in the tradition of Octoberfest, there's a Big Lunch, featuring all the delicacies available. Beer, too.

The pride of those participating in the parade as well as those standing alongside viewing is so evident. For a descendant of some unknown couple from England, this is a great event in a tiny hamlet for me.

This is the month also that our neighborhood share a dinner. There aren't too many families in this group, but the yearly gathering is about the only time any of us can sit together and converse. Otherwise, it's a wave and a "hello" that drifts from our car window.

September is a wonderful month for us Southerners.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

About that 650 lb Bear...

Today during our weekly breakfast at the local country store, we heard again about the BIG BEAR. Seems R and I are the only ones who've not seen him, although his footprints and the denuded barks of trees on the property tell us he's visited.

H mentioned that the dumpster in back of the store is 14 feet high, and he watched as BB put his arms on top, raised his left foot and hefted himself onto the top, mashing the dumster to the size of a crushed car. Then he went next door to the restaurant and did the same thing.

Another patron,D said at a cookout at his brother's house someone made the remark, "Now that the steaks are on the grill, wouldn't it be something if BB came into the yard?" Some few minutes later he did, heading, not to the grill, but to the huge apple tree in the corner of the yard. He reached to the top of his height, pulled off some apples and ate a few. Then he sauntered across the yard to the surprise of the guests, and disappeared.

D, a local whose been around bears all his life, assured us that this guy isn't going to bother anyone, so to watch and go on with our business. I'm afraid I would be frozen with fear to go on with any business.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

...But the Memories Linger On

I've attended two concerts at the new BethelWoods in NY. The beautiful site is easy to maneuver by car and foot. Beautifully landscapted lawns make enjoying the concerts from either an indoor seat or on the lawn.

"Hippifest" was so much fun. Some of the presenters included names I've never heard of:The Turtles, the Rascals, Mountain Zombies, Badfinger, to name a few. Only two songs did I recognize and now can't remember them, so you know I have been out of the loop as far as rock bands are concerned. However, I felt good being at an historical event, seeing the original hippies of earlier times now in their 50's and 60's singing along while revisiting memories. Everyone, including original band members were reliving a bang-up time.

The lawn was no longer a muddy slush, but a green carpet stretching to everywhere. Plantings were minimal and the buildings were architecturally fitting. The amphitheatre in which we were seated followed the contours of the lawn that once held bodies packed like sardines.

A wonderful experience.

The following weekend we attended the performance of the Boston Pops playing music from oscar nominated movies and tony awarded television musicals. My date R declared that the Pops' selections were almost too tame after the rock 'n' roll music--this coming from a guy whose music listening extends no longer than 10 minutes.

Now we are preparing to hear "Earth, Wind, and Fire." What they play I have no idea; I just remember our kids having their albums. Maybe I'm more interested in sitting on the lawn while enjoyable music drifts by...

Note: Check out for a glimpse of past shows. First-rate for so little fee.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Acclimation Easy, But....

We are now back in the Catskills where the rain that fell in Mississippi has followed us here. Not fun to be cooped up in two 12'x12' buildings with two crossword puzzle books and fighting the humid air. But, that's not as bad as not being to communicate.

If I'd never known of computers and cell phones, I think I'd have been better off. I have to go 5 miles to be within a cell tower, which is ok, but my new wireless connection just didn't get me the help for my computer that I'd expected. That has been so frustrating, since I have a small business that depends on orders via emails.I now have found by hiking up the hill behind our cabin I can get just the right height to get a cell phone connection. But the hike isn't easy. Should I complain???

But let's look on the cheery side, mate. I love it here. Right now there are few animals or fowl roaming around, no bird sounds, only the scrubbing sound of a limb above our cabins. Makes us remember we're in the woods.

Neighbors say to look out for the 650 lb bear wandering on our property. You betcha! We are armed with whistles and a tin pan and spoon which we "play" as we wander. Now how can I ever find such excitement in the city?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Time to Eat Our Bounty and Leave

Within 48 hours we should be leaving Mississippi, our Madison home that has just been named one of the top 10 little towns in America (by Family Circle Magazine), to finish out the summer in the lower Catskills. I'm ready. No regrets about leaving this late.

When R came home with two tomato plants some few months ago, I barked, "What do you think you're doing? We've never had luck with raising tomatoes!" He planted them quietly in two terracotta pots and said, "Let's try once more. These are bush tomatoes, just the right size for eating."

Sixty-four days these tomatoes needed to bloom and produce slices for my bacon/tomato sandwiches. I knew we'd never see them turn pink before we'd be in New York. Our delay in leaving has brought us several ripened ones along with figs for our cereal most mornings.

We were never good at raising food. We would've starved had we been early pioneers. Nothing we did gave us a break in planting. We tried nut and fruit trees only to see them wither and die. We asked questions, read articles, followed directions. Nothing worked. The last tree we planted was the fig, and we put it in a corner where no other growth was, sheltered on one side by a fence and forgot it. Steadily it grew and occasionally gave us a hint of a taste but offered no bragging rights. Now it's an old tree and producing enough for enjoyment.

Some eight years ago the tree had grown four feet into the yard. Bushes planted by our neighbors nearby were vying for the sunlight. We had clipped and sawed limbs from year to year to control its growth to no avail. The tree kept growing upward, revealing its juiciest fruit out of reach.

I've had a week to enjoy these brown kisses as is or sliced into a bowl with a bit of cream. The tomatoes are sweet and juicy, making my BLT the best ever. These enjoyments are the few rewards I like about summers in Mississippi.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I Feel Guilty

When neighbor J takes his daily walk, he pushes a small cart with an oxygen machine. He takes a few steps, stops, looks around, watches a bird flit from one tree to another, then goes a few more steps, only to stop again to regenerate energy to finish his walk. He may get the equivalent of a city block or two, but he moves. Only a torrential rain, the only deterrent. He doesn't mind the misty rains. The cloying heat just shortens his walking time.

Always a proponent of exercise, J has several machines at home he continues to use. Despite heart trouble. He told us the other day that the doctors found some muscles not holding his heart upright, causing the organ to sit sideways. Difficult to diagnose.

Here I sit day after day doing what I enjoy in the air conditioning, not exercising because of the outside heat. Unless I'm in a giant mall, where I'll walk extra to make up for excessive sitting. I see J and wonder if some health condition will have to strike me before I become enthusiasic about exercising more. So often it takes a scare to push us into good habits.

Here's to all like J who, despite affliction and weather,"keep trucking," "hang in there," keep on goin'".

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Parental Mentors

Neighbor M walks mornings and evenings carrying a small Rubbermaid container with succulent worms nestled in oatmeal. Birds know her and fly along the street, sweeping down to grab a grub that M has tossed and fly back to sit on a telephone line to feast. Some would call her obsessed, but, no, she's the bluebird guardian and teacher in our neighborhood. She has encouraged everyone on the block to place blue bird houses in their yards-- making them herself, and even installing for those who have little time.

This summer I observed a heartwarming situation of how bluebirds have the instinct to take care of their offspring so well.

A few months back a guy bluebird met a girl bluebird and they decided to take a nearby house (in our front yard), free of rent, and make a nest to raise a family. With eggs snug in leaves, moss, and fluff garnered from here and there, girlsoon realized that motherhood didn't agree with her. As she sat on her nest she dreamed of all that was missing in her life. After the babies hatched, she declared "Enough!" leaving crying babies behind to join a fly-by-night group seeking fun. New dad came home after a few days of hunting to find starving babies. Mama's gone! She had been missing so long in getting the kids fed on time, they eventually died.

Rejected boy bluebird flew around the yard, searching for his mate. When he realized she was gone for good, he spent no time before checking out the singles. He spied a young bird with big eyes and soft feathers. She found him handsome and virile. He and she made a nest. Readying for a family, she laid eggs. A few days later he came home late from being out with the guys and found she'd blown the coop! And four eggs churning! Like Superman to the rescue, he took over sitting on the eggs for weeks until one evening they hatched. We were watching from our dining room window, knowing birth time was within the next few days. What excitement! Little dad's journey to feed his brood every 10 minutes began. Back and forth he went constantly, bringing in food, and taking out the dirty diapers. He wasn't accustomed to housecleaning, but he knew the importance of keeping his babes germ free.

We kept a close eye on our cat, Bobbisox, who was keeping track of the birdies. R began to help little daddy by supplying worms between times of neighbor M's schedule. When the birdies began to fly, little dad was there, urging them not to get discouraged. He tucked them in at night and found a few hours rest in the branches above his house.

Bluebird parents have known "tough love" long before the term was used by humans. We turn to self-help books or tutoring from others in our quest to be decent parents. For the blue birds it's natural.

M has observed the antics of birds from the time a couple make a home in her yard to fledgling stage and later as young adults. One afternoon she told me that mamas discipline their kids with certain noises. One is the freezing chirp, used to teach kids manners. If a kid fails to behave, like getting a worm on time, a chirp sounds and the kid freezes in place. M has seen a birdie freeze with wings spread and one foot off the branch, ready to fly when the chirp sounded. If birdie doesn't follow the rules for eating, Chirrrrp! mama swoops down like a dive bomber to prevent the kid from reaching his supper. Mama will see that junior misses a few meals when he misbehaves. Oh, when have we sent our son or daughter to bed without supper or made him/her eat the same plateful at as many meal times as needed until all food is consumed??

Neighbor M has made me more aware of this wondrous aspect of nature through her constant care of/and information about bluebirds. She isn't the only bird lover, she's just the only one I've met. Time to clean out the bird houses so a traveler can find rest overnight.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It's Tea Time!

Nothing tastes better in the summertime than a cold glass of iced tea. Sweet, that is. In most restaurants and food service counters there are two urns for sweet and unsweet teas. Diets have caused this change. However, once your brain is attuned to sweet tea, nothing tastes the same after that moment of discovery.

Every morning after our two mile walk around Strawberry Park, Sis and I hit McD's for breakfast. I love their biscuits and sausage combo and I choose at 7:30 in the morning to have sweetened iced tea. Only at McD's is there no choice. The tea is sweeter than any Easterner can imagine, and almost too sweet for me. I have to add water, maybe a quarter to that super cup. Not one for coffee, I suck the cold tea through the straw relishing the morning pickup it gives.

An article by Lisa Singhania from The Associated Press states this about tea:

"Approximately 85% of tea consumed in the iced. No one in the world except for us drinks sweet tea and no one in the U.S sweetens their tea as much as they do in the Southeast."

You have to love sugared tea, or use artificial sweetner, or drink as is. When Easterners think of the South, they imagine us sitting on our front porches (which few of us have now) drinking mint juleps, but you'll only find that on the Cool Drinks Menu of a New Orleans restaurant.

Southerners don't dip into a jar of instant tea--OH, NO! We brew in boiling water either tea bags or leaves to a strong dark, rich color (usually orange pekoe and pekoe), pour into a large pitcher, add sugar (watch it dissolve like magic before your eyes), water and a squeeze of lemon, stir, and pour over as many ice cubes as the tall glass can hold. Or you can put pitcher in the fridge to reduce quick melting of the ice.

A guest in a Southerner's home had better be prepared to forget the soda or wine on a hot summer day. If you're invited to sit on your host's patio with the soft southern breeze drifting across your face, then a tall glass of sweetened iced tea is the recipe for keeping cool.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cicada Invasion

On May 24 ABC News had a report on the invasion of cicadas in the Midwest. The most interesting of all was the coverage of a cookbook author preparing these for a cicada party. Cicadini cocktail? Fried cicadas? Sushi with cicadas? I don't believe it, yet I watched the report showing participants eating the morsels that taste like "woodsy, peanut butter-like." And the male cicadas have a lot of protein!

A cicada invasion hit in the mid 1930's in Denver, Co. I was about four years old at the time. Still reeling through my mind on occasion is the remembrance of the total coverage outside these bugs made and the annoyance of having to brush them off after running from the car to the apartment where we lived at the time. Nothing we could wear or the quickness of our movements gave us any relief from thousands of cicadas who stuck on us. I don't remember being afraid of being bitten, more about the annoyance. Never have I been involved since then in any other kind of bug plague. Fortunately for the Midwesterners, this only occurs every 17 years!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Goodbye, Kisses

I should never have gone to the grocery store Friday. After walking my usual two miles, I swallowed a biscuit with sausage at McD's and headed to the next door store.

But that morning I figured I needed a pick-me-up for the weekend and came home with a bag of.....Hershey's Kisses! I may as well have shot myself, at least I'd have been several pounds lighter upon death. I had broken my vow of no more candy, held since March and I was strutting with pride.

Like a lot of ladies my age, pounds go on easily and rarely drop off. Weight is our middle name. I'm already looking at the latest microfiber underlings that promise a slimmer me. Honestly, life has not been good for my once-skinny body. When I was thin, chubby was in. Now thin is getting all the publicity. T'aint fair, McGee.

Before the night shades pulled over the sky on Saturday, I had devoured all the kisses, sneaking them in my mouth when R wasn't looking. He's slightly hard of hearing (though he won't admit it) so unwrapping the silver foil was too easy. Careful to accumulate the wrappings, I was savoring every motion of my tongue across the roof of my mouth, knowing very well that I was committing a crime of passion.

Despite the fact that latest statistics indicate the body's need for dark chocolate, there's no way I can live on one daily kiss. I need a lot of kisses (with a few hugs of forgiveness thrown in!) A hiker I met in Santa Fe bragged how well she was doing, eating one Dove chocolate a day as a reward for her tenacity to reduce sweets. I had thought about imitating her practice, but no, my eyes flickered past the Dove packages for my childhood favs--milk chocolate kisses. I hesitated a moment, thinking that if I could find the new cherry filled kind, I'd substitute. No such luck.

Now I'm filled with remorse, a noticeable fold around the middle, and a pitiful feeling of regret for my actions.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Better Way to Walk


Trying to solve my hunched back, my weak knees, and husband R's painful back, we decided to try the new Earth Shoes. These are built with a "negative heel." The ads for Earth Shoes indicate that wearing them will allow you to walk correctly, with the heel lower than the sole. So off we went last week to the only store in our area stocking selections.

The walking shoes made my feet appear as small boats.(To you, seeing the photo, they appear "normal" size. The negative heel isn't apparent.) The toe box was roomy and the laces tied tightly. A good fit. Standing straight was an easy feat. Feeling like I was leaning on my heels, I testily walked around the store. Hmm--not bad. But the salesman thought I should try another brand just to get a comparison. Out he came with a pair of walking shoes with a curved sole promoting "neuro-muscular/proprioceptive training, lower limb blood flow, and postural and gait adjustment." MBT, they're called: Masai Barefoot Technology. (The Masai are known as shoeless natives.)

These shoes looked even bulkier than the Earth Shoes, but felt much better on the feet. The rocker sole gave one the feeling of floating across the floor. However, the price tag was considerably higher.

While I pondered the shoes, their prices, and their fit,, R decided to
try on a pair. He immediately liked both types, but the Earth Shoe was on sale--$100 off!! He bought two pairs, while I decided on the Earth Shoe, salivating for the MBT's. I, too, settled on Earth Shoes.

We were cautioned upon leaving that we should wear our shoes each day for a short time. Ignoring his advice,the next day we walked a mile in our selections, only to understand better the caution we'd received. Without practice wearing the Earth Shoes, the muscles in our legs and feet feel strained until the change in our posture and gait occurs. We have to wear them for a few hours daily in order to adjust.

Now R is ready to discard his other shoes. He has noticed an immediate change in his posture. As a woman who loves shoes, my discarding all others is a difficult decision that will take a bit longer. In the meantime, I have bought a pair of Earth Shoe sandals so I'll wear both pairs more than any other.

MBT's will be on our list for next year. Expensive? Yes, but the improvement of our neuroskeletal makeup is proof of their importance.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend of Plays

Now I understand the War of the Roses--such bloodshed! This weekend Sis and I attended another annual Southern Writers' Project of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. A marvelous Friday through Sunday of readings by new and somewhat-new playwrights both young and adult then evenings and matinees of this season's plays. I have to say I'm learning to "hear" strong and weak points of plays in the early stages of development which readings are for, and discussions afterwards gives the playwright a glimpse of what did and didn't appeal to the audience about the characters and situations.

"Rocket City" told of early stages of Warner von Braun's arrival with his German scientists into the city of Huntsville, AL, and the residents' reactions; "The Dragonfly Tale" showed us a communtity largely inhabited by blacks with a Jewish shopkeeper's involvement in their lives--an inside view of humanity:physical violence, pettiness, friendship, love, hate..."The Fall of the House" concerned a group of people stranded at one house the day after Katrina hit, how one woman stood her ground not to leave her home, while the victims she nurtured attempt to convince her to leave with the rescue boats.

Evenings we saw Henry VI Part B (having missed Thursday's production of Part A) where a second generation continues bloodshed to gain the crown and Richard III whose "right to the crown" was tweaked by Richard killing off his brothers and families and his loyal subjects to gain the power he felt he deserved. Lots of action, but most of all, a better understanding of Shakespeare's works. A quick review of history beforehand of how Shakespeare himself tweaked history for his dramatic plots by a seasoned college professor, gave us the understanding we should have obtained in our own college lit classes. Not an adult in the audience would have protested a class in Shakespeare after these productions. The program ran a genealogy chart of the "Dynastic Rivalry of The Wars of the Roses: It's All in the Family." that should be kept while rereading these famous plays. The resident actors and MFA students gave outstanding performances.

Present at the weekend festivities were playwrights who are making quiet noises in the play world. Their names unknown by most of the public, but will in coming years be recognized. Talks by these writers is worth the weekend away from home. We all left with the idea we could write a play.

"Thinking of You," a last year's reading by Peter Hicks was the light presentation. This is about a family's psychic ability and how it interferes with the daughter's opportunities to find a decent boyfriend who can overlook the fact that his girlfriend can read his thoughts. Funny, almost to slapstick.

Now I'm back to normal, ready to attack unpacking of boxes and replacing of furniture after five weeks of house renovations. As I rummage through the boxes I can lose my mind in the battles of royal families...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

It's Only 85 Degrees? Gads, That's Hot!

Although the temperatures this month aren't the usual summer ones, when the thermometer hits above 80 degrees, I begin to feel like the characters in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Remember the glistening bodies, the few clothes those characters wore, the stringy hair? I FEEL I'm in that story when the first perspiration pops out on my body.

The other day I told my doc that I didn't feel good after walking. That seemed to surprise him, but nothing I say to him should raise his eyebrows by now. I guess I was hoping he'd tell me to quit walking, but he didn't. He asked me how I felt after being in water aerobics, and I said "tired." I'm sure he didn't believe me.

"Once spring gets here I don't feel up to par," I said. "Hmmm, " he replied. Since I don't know anyone else who feels this way, I assume I would make a good study for medical students.

Hot Mississippi weather has always been my enemy. As a preschooler I wanted to stay indoors in front of the fan. The relief was like taking a quarter of an aspirin for a thundering headache. Relief-- just an arm's length away. I wore only sun suits in those days. The bedroom fan oscillated day and night. Fortunately, my parents recognized my plight and we moved to Denver, Colorado, where snow was still on the ground that spring of '35. Mother's only mistake was to take me a month after arriving to a doctor for his advice.

"Hmmm," the doctor replied, "I think we have just as much hot weather as you do in Mississippi. I don't see the need for you to upset your life to move out here!" He had just signed my slow death warrant. After the grasshopper plague, the Parents packed me up and returned to the home state. And since then I've struggled to survive.

I have had that doctor on my short list of people I dislike. He ruined me with a few words. I could have learned to ski, climb mountains, and slept nights with the windows raised if he had made a more positive statement. He enslaved me to the heat for the rest of my life.

For 20 years without air conditioning my mornings as a teacher began fresh, and within 15 minutes my makeup had slid to my toes, my clothes stuck to my perspiring body, and my hair had become as stringy as that of Blanche DuBois. I would have given my right arm to wear her slip throughout the day. Tennessee Williams knew just how to write about the heat of the South. It eats at your soul, sucks energy from your pores, makes you listless.

I should be happy now. But, I'm every bit of a hermit in the summer in the Deep South. My only escape is to the cool waters of the pool at the fitness center. I can't wait for our July trip to New York, where the heat lasts from 11 am until 3:00 and then Mom Nature cools the earth down so I can relax. She's my buddy.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Do You Ever Read Good Books?

In recent weeks I've had the above question put to me, after explaining I'm a voracious reader of mystery books. "Sure," I answered, "I sometimes surprise my librarian with a known author of good books. On my last trip to the best "store" for books, I spied an author, Nicholas Evans, and found he had his fourth book The Divide published. An Englishman, he is the writer of the popular The Horse Whisperer and The Smoke Jumper.

I've also read a few of the best 100 books of the year. One of my non-mystery favorite authors is Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. This group of stories is set in Botswana and gives a delightful running account of a woman's life in the dusty country that she finds appealing.

When I was sure I was going to visit Los Alamos, I read the story of its birth, which wasn't a mystery novel, although the bomb business was kept a mystery; I want to reread Hiroshima by John Hersey.

For those who think authors like Tony Hillerman, Lee Child, Harlan Corban, and Kathy Reichs aren't real writers; well, they are. Writers of mystery and intrigue have grown in popularity over the years. Remember how popular Sherlock Holmes series were? Writers of this genre have found their place in the world of books.

I guess there's no one list called the Best Books of the Year. I've found from various websites that the best books of Publisher's Weekly will differ from that of New York Times Book Review or of Barnes and Nobles Best List. In each there are always one or two mystery writers. "Best" may mean the most sought after books, the ones with the biggest sales, or the number of published ones.

I read what will transport me to another world: biographies, travel accounts, histories, and those by foreign writers. Mostly,I just want to be entertained, not educated in politics, religion, or world events unless the time is ripe for it. I don't read self-help books, cook books, or practical books on gardening or cleaning or mixing drinks or preparing for a party, for example. Do those books help one to be a widely-read reader?

On my bookshelf there are a number of non-fiction books written by talk-show hosts, political figures, and admired people, and a few poetry and meditation books, but I've not had the inclination to read them--yet. There'll come a time when I no longer can trudge to the library or the local bookstore and will have to reach into my book collection, but until then, those books will take up space on my bookshelves.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Back to the Grind of Everyday Living

I must say the hiking trip was an adventure. Learned a lot each day. Elderhostel always has a great group of adults, say those who've participated in trips numerous times. How can one imagine a better group of folks repeatedly? Well, it happens. What rarely happens is that friends made on one trip never meet again. They are reduced to email addresses.

Our group came from various states from the West Coast to the East Coast with Canada thrown in twice: Ontario and British Colombia. All were experienced hikers, save yours truly. But I learned more from that one trip than any in which I could have participated. These hikers were my cheering squad, always tolerant of my inept attempt at hiking. My main problem was breathing in the altitude of 7,000ft and above.

Now I'm back in sultry Mississippi, still waiting for the completion of our home's remodeling. Workmen these days seem to imitate the turtle. I'm tired of living in two rooms, facing three rooms' worth of furniture and accessories. So I had a let down when I entered the doors to discover that I had forgotten where I'd placed anything of necessity. Took me three days to find the envelopes (I know, I could have gone to the PO and bought some); four hours to unearth my date book; and one day of constant searching to find some cooler clothes. However, I'm attempting to stay level headed, ignore the heat wave, pray for rain, and enjoy not cooking for a few more weeks.

Why complain? I shouldn't. Sis and I missed tornadoes hitting us in Texas by a few miles and braced for an accident that, luckily, didn't happen. Every driver in the lane behind us in Ft. Worth, looking like they were hitting 75 miles an hour with only a yard or two to brake, stopped.

Sis and I had a great time together. I'll need a vacation of rest at least for six months; however, Sis already is planning another Elderhostel trip. Let's wait until fall, Sis, OK?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"The Worst Climb is Over, Now Just Keep Going. . ."

Our crew of 18 is my cheering squad. Wednesday, I managed to hike up Tsankaii Trail, which was difficult for me, but I got to the top and back with the muscles in my legs in a knot. The trail weaved around some tuff (ashes of volcano hardened and containing stones); or it led us to the edge of a cliff. Often we put our feet in steps that had been worn in rock (made by early Indians?)lifting one foot in front of the other to propel us forward; climbing up and down typical Indian ladders (that first step the longest), and at other times squeezing between rocks with our backpacks on. The trail was up and up and I wasn't sure I could make it, but I wouldn't have complained for anything. I did find other hikers who had knee problems and needed some time off. My backpack, which has a reservoir for water, was really good, as holding anything in my hands was difficult when maneuvering in and around the rocks. All I had to do was sip the end of a tube hanging beside my left shoulder.

By the time we got to Bandelier National Park, I said goodbye to the others and sat out the two hours. Fortunately, there were several who felt the same as I and this gave us time to get acquainted more.

Leaving Bandelier at 3 pm we with cars headed to Abiquiu, some 2 hours north on 84. The scenery seemed much like the desert of Western movies. Actually our next home for three nights and two days would be Ghost Ranch some 15 miles north of Abiquiu on the road to Chama.

Today,Thursday, the "easy" path for everyone but YOU KNOW WHO was to Chimney Rock, on the acreage managed by Ghost Ranch. After vowing I'd sit this one out, loyal suporters told me to ignore my frozen thigh muscles and hit the trail, that I'd feel better when I started. Hah! I made it up the steepest hill, huffing and puffing enough for four people, so loudly I couldn't hear the explanation of the paleontologist who was pointing to thoursands of years old-algae and lichen. When I reached the rest of the group, they began climbing again. "You've done the worst, just keep going," was the mantra of the few who felt compelled to urge me on. I gave out after trying the next hill, sat on a rock and promised the hikers to stay intact until they returned.

Downhill later proved to test my knees, my thighs, my eyesight (I looked down hiking up and down the hills), so hitting bottom was like a refreshing drink of water.

Let's face it. Despite drinking so much water I thought I'd be the next Old Faithful in reverse, I knew that my problem was the altitude. Of course, there are the muscles unused to such punishment, but breathing some several hundred feet more than the 7,000 plus feet is difficult.

I took the afternoon off and napped while the experienced ones went to Box Canyon. Humph! I'd hiked one canyon, and this is more difficult. I've sense to know when to quit.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Did Someone Say " Hiking"?

Thinking we were in fine fettle to hike a few miles, Sis and I were the slow ones on a trip Monday up a mountain some thousand feet higher than Santa Fe. Following a trail called Dick Ball, perhaps because he cleared it, we were grateful for the level areas, trudging up the small hills that seemed so easy(and were to the more experienced hikers) that suddenly I felt my breathing labored. I swallowed so much water, that I felt I'd float to the top, but a few minutes rest helped me catch up. After two miles up Sis and I quit the others who wanted to hike further. We knew we'd only drag the others down waiting for us, so we hit the down trail slowly and rested for 30 minutes, wondering if we'd made a good decision to try this vacation.

Today, Tuesday, we'll hike in a canyon, tomorrow the Bandelier Park, which will be some up and down walking, and then on to Abiquiu. We have discovered that we don't have the right clothers for the very cold, windy afternoons and mornings. But we are still with the group, despite fighting a cold or an allergy picked up on the mountain.

Monday, April 16, 2007

109 East Palace

My neighbor V insisted that I purchase a copy of the above named book and read it as Sis and I drifted towards Santa Fe. It is the story of the secretive nature of those who were engaged in planning and executing the Atomic Bomb. I've capitalized the words because, although it helped us win against the Japanese in WWII, there is an awesome, penetrating feeling one receives when the story gets to the actual day of the first bomb test.

Sis and I visited 109 E. Palace the other day and to our regret, a linen shop was in the same building that had been set up as a undercover office to serve as a starting point for all physicists, their families, military personnel, and other needed workers. Locals didn't know what lay behind the iron gate; that inside the white lintel entranceway one who entered, "disappeared."

I lived through this war and somehow I'd forgotten about the AB. Years of peace and wars in other foreign soils, growing up and raising my own family, I was caught up in the "now." All the time, work was going on at Los Alamos, NM, a short hour's drive from Santa Fe. Even the Santa Feans didn't know that on a mesa past the San Idelfonso Reservation, history was in the making.

We didn't complete the book before visiting Los Alamos. The road leading to the mesa began a mix of mind pictures playing at rapid speed as we drove up and up and up. We were remembering the descriptions of the difficulty of military vehicles carrying precious cargo on muddy roads, the vistas that were seen by the newly arrivals, and once on the mesa top, we saw nothing that those who had to live in secret saw. A thriving city with all the modern conveniences...just the opposite for the workers and their families.

Los Alamos has two museums: the Bradbury Science Museum which gives a brief history in photographs and then gives hands-on science information. Extensive material on the components of "Fat Boy" and "Little Man" (named after W. Churchill and FDR) that were the forerunners to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima snd Nagasaki. Displays of research being done now to "serve national security, eneregy, health, and environmental research needs", as the pamphlet handed out states. This is a wonderful science lesson for young people. The history is quite complete, a number of lessons in themselves about the progress and timeline and what was being done at Los Alamos at the same time war was being raged in Europe.

Visiting the History Museum on the former campus of a boys' ranch that was appropriated by the U. S. Army for the research, gives tangible remains of life on top of the mesa. Life under secrecy wasn't ideal by any means, and while the physicists worked long hours day and night trying to beat the Germans, whom it was reported were already working on a bomb, their wives were attempting to carve out a semblance of daily life putting up with poor electricity, little heat (the mesa is 7,355 ft. high), improper kitchen equipment, vegetables that rotted in transport, little fruit, and anything you can imagine could be devastating so far from civilization. Yet, the persistence of these women to provide a balance without being able to contact their families, who knew nothing of their husbands' work for years, should be rewarded. As should the military personnel who were stationed there.

The local bookstore displayed all the various books that have been written about this project, led admirably by J. Robert Oppenheimer, a quiet man who deceived those under him as to his ability to keep the large group filled with hope and working to capacity. 109 E. Palace isn't the last of the stories I'm going to read. Written by the Jennet Conant, granddaughter of James Conant, who played a part in this secretive world, has compressed into a readable account the story from its early days to the decisions made afterwards as to the use of Los Alamos. Although there are many others who've done this, hers is the latest to be published. There are books written by WACS who served during that time, a book of some of the workers, giving their photos during the period, as well as an up-to-date one. On one page they've written of their time at Los Alamos.

Some interesting highlights(or low points) of life there: everyone had the same address, Box 1663; workers were given numbers on their security passes; important persons were given fictional names and everyone called the other only by a first name; no outsiders for years knew where their sons or daughters were working--just "somewhere"; no one could get off the mesa without special permission, so local inhabitants were asked to provide R/R for the overworked physicists and their wives; there was no shopping for the women, poor laundry services, so they began to wear overalls that would take the wear and tear of dirt.

When you visit Los Alamos, you can also see the Jemez Mountains that are the result of a volcano that erupted and left these mesas or peninsulas. Bandelier National Park adjoins and is a testament to the early Indian settlements who left petroglyphs on cliff walls, as well as dwellings set back in cave areas formed by the volcano. The area of the volcano eruption is Calles Caldera, a national preserve. One can see the deep depression left after the eruption.

Everyone should be reminded of the path that led to the development of the bomb, the results of that destruction, the terrible feeling the physicists felt knowing their hard work would kill thousands of people.

I hope generations to come will study this time in history.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Acoma: Then and Now

My adult children were 8, 11, and 12 years respectively, when the family journeyed west on THE BIG TRIP. We were heading to California on a two-week whirlwind of spots I could remember having taken when I was 13 years old with my parents.

Memory only serves me now, as I didn't keep a journal in the 1960's. But we all remember the Acoma reservation. A simple sign directed us off Interstate 40, which had been Highway 66 in my teen years. This side road was unpaved but layered with rocks and seemed endless. Finally, we arrived at another sign that indicated only a few more miles, and the Chrysler pulling our pop-up trailer groaned as it labored up a steep hill, R being carefull not to slide backwards. At the first level area, we parked and followed visitors before us scrambling up some stone stairs. To our kids, this was an adventure.

Suddenly we were on top of a mesa. An Indian posted near the steps pointed us to a tiny shack you'd think was for a watchman. Inside we were told to leave our cameras behind while visiting. No photos of anything. Outside in the sunny, slightly windy day a guide accepted a fee and led a small group of us immediately to the church, a grey structure founded by a Catholic priest in the 1800's. We listened intently as our guide sadly told us that only a handful of inhabitants were on the mesa, losing all the young people to civilization below. And, these older people living still without electricity, water, and sanitation were the last of the Acoma people. They made their living by continuing the practice of pottery making. Hand throwing and decorating pots large and small with the needles of the yucca plant and dyes made from nature, these few people sat in front of their adobe clad homes, hoping for the dollars they'd earn from us. So few houses were on the mesa that we visitors felt we were seeing the decline of an ancient peoples, remnants of the Anazazi. We backtracked down the stone steps to the car and trailer with the several pots we'd bought from one of the old women when she finished decorating them with her needle-like brush.

Now, forty years later Sis and I reached the turnoff at I40, checked into the Sky City Hotel/Casino for a night's rest before visiting the mesa the next morning. This time we followed a paved road, passing several housing projects, two churches, a council building, a Headstart building, two schools, a water tower, electrical lines, and television antennas. Something had been happening all the while my children were growing into adults. Sky City had grown up, too.

We arrived at a cultural center housing a museum, cafe, and gift shop. Our tickets cost us $11 and we were whisked off in a small bus up the mountain. I was aghast at the change from primitive to modern. The first thing we saw as we advanced towards the mesa were the dotting of small shacks in gray, blue and white-- the familiar portable latrines. Now, I call that good progress.

The second surprise was seeing the breath-taking views again. The third was the number of houses on the mesa. Through visitors' fees and pottery purchases, the Acoma had courted their young, building schools and teaching them an almost forgotten culture and language, and employing the young as guides. The housing projects had enticed families to return to their land.

Our guide was Kathleen, attending a local Albuquerque college. The day was dreary, an icy slush was falling, and we skidded and picked our way in the mud that refused to leave our shoes. She said the Acoma population that had moved away now had second homes they'd built in which to reside during sacred ceremonies held several times a year. This accounted for the increase in the number of dwellings on top. Having no building codes, some of the homes were very modern, sitting next door to an ancient structure. Her explanation of mesa life had lengthened to an hour and a half, reminding us of Coronado's twice visit to destroy everything Acoma. Now with progress, permanent residents park their cars and drive to and from stores below. Improved construcion methods are used to ward off deterioration from wind and bad weather. However, there is still no electricity nor running water. No television sets, microwaves, or other modern conveniences. Cisterns are now more available, so no one has to go far to fill a container of water; as of years earlier,when a frail Indian woman slipped deftly down a worn path to the springs below, dipping her pail and picking her way back up to supply the household for the day.

In the final moments she led us to the opposite side of the mesa where we could see below the cultural center, the winding road up to the mesa,and another breath-taking vista. She pointed to hewn rock steps and announced that early visitors had had to clammer to reach the top. My mind hadn't failed me. I looked at the steps and remembered the tough time R and I had maneuvering three kids and ourselves to the top. I smiled. Kathleen said that nowadays visitors no longer use the steps because they are deemed too perilous. Ha! I thought, visitors today are just wimps!

Instead of several older Indian women selling wares, there were a dozen, much younger, the sons and daughters (or maybe grandchildren) from whom we'd bought our pots. I recognized some of the names. They appear on the bottoms of our black and white pots sitting on a table in Madison, MS--still as beautiful as the day so long ago they were bought.

On the Road Again

It's exhilerating being on the open road. Whenever R and I travel, we get to the next state, pull out our wine glasses, open a bottle of our favorite and toast to the words Carman Miranda sang oh so many years ago: "Cuanta le gusta, le gusta, le gusta,(2 more le gustas), cuanta le gusta, le gusta, le gusta. We gotta get goin' where we're goin', what're we gonna do? We're on our way to somewhere, the two of us and you..." So every new exciting landscape promoted this ritual.

This week my sister and I headed for Santa Fe and the prospect of hiking the hills around the area and around Abiquiui. We made it to New Mexico by Thursday night, staying in a casino hotel near the Acoma Reservation. It just happened to be the only place to stay after missing an exit in Albuquerque. However, we were close to the place where we'd tour the Acoma mesa, meaning we could sleep later than usual. When we awoke on Friday morning, we were greeted with a snow slush that had fallen during the night. Quite a foretelling of what to expect on the Acoma reservation.

The tour was under slushy rain that only made the dirt streets a sea of mud, slippery to execute in places, but 15 interested souls got their best walking shoes caked with mud, followed the tour guide, and rejoiced that the Acoma were increasing bringing back their young and building homes to live in during ceremonial days.

And the weather was cold! We wondered if there would be more slush and cold weather, whether the hiking would be limited during our week. After all, this is an Elderhostel trip, and we didn't know the ages or health of our future fellow hikers. That is to be seen on Sunday night in Santa Fe at the Ghost Ranch campus in the heart of town.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Few Yard Blooms

Garden books lie around the living room for most of the year, inspiring me to dig at the first sign of warm weather. However, these tomes don't push me into the yard, place gloves on my hands and pads on my knees. I'm not a gardener. My yard produces the same flowering trees and shrubs that we planted ten years ago because we had to have something blooming seasonally.

What novices we were the first year we feverishly dug, planted, watered and fertilized! Tomato plants put into the ground at the roots we discovered later should have been planted deep so only the tops show. Our choice spot for a pecan tree became overshadowed by faster growing bushes killing it before we ever saw a nut. The fruit trees refused to grow, despite the book advice for fertilizing. Two hickory trees caught blight and died, their skeletal remains standing 36 months. After a few years of a yard full of pine needles,and the difficulty of raking them from a vast area,the Boss gave the orders to workmen, who felled over 75 pines, their limbs lying in the yard for a year. Trunks went to pulp mill. We couldn't make a dent in clearing the twigs and dead needles. No one would take the job for 24 months, despite decent pay.

We bought the property because of over a hundred trees. During house construction, we dared the contractor cut a single tree! After the Big Cut, our adult kids fumed. We had destroyed the country look of our home, they sobbed. Pleas were ignored. Starting over, we planted one tree or shrub at a time, carefully listening to the nurseryman explain the size of the holes, and how to fertilize and water. Somehow this time around we became wiser to the ways of nature. Today we're proud of our Japanese maples, the two Grandfather Graybeards, a few dogwoods and the azalea bushes that keep blooming, despite our neglect.

When spring arrives and I want cut flowers, I buy them arranged in pots and scatter them in the yard. The fun is in selecting the colors and types of blooms I want to greet every morning when I pick up the morning paper.

Dear Miss Phillipines

Ohh, you naughty girl! You're one of those who loves to shop! But, three hundred dollars of cosmetics and facial creams?? AND tickets via CEBU Air--three thousand dollars worth??

Well, Dear, I hope you enjoyed spending my money. I know, you wouldn't have bought my debit card number and my name and address if I hadn't been a bit smug about using one, saying, "I'm safe. No one will get my number!" I like using a debit card because I know my balance immediately. No invoices to have to check each month. There is such ease with the D/C card! I'm not angry at you. Just at myself for being so stupid.

OK, I've learned my lesson. The card is in six pieces, and your next purchase will be denied. The bank promises me a reimbursement of the entire amount in a few weeks. Not expecting such generosity, I'm not inquisitive as to the method. Thankfully, I've enough in my account to cover this spending spree! Otherwise, I'd been another notch on the handle of identity thievery.

What'd ya pay for this fun--$10?--now you'll hav'ta fork over another 10 bucks to become someone else. You are no longer Vivian Newkirk.

P.S. Dear Reader, if you are as stupid as I've been and still use a debit/credit card, tear it up immediately.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Travel Fever

After reading "Moosehill Journal" recently and reveling with the author's visit to California and Yosemite National Park, I felt the deep down tugging of my travel heart. I, too, was ready for a journey, not necessarily the usual ones taken to see grown children.

It was prophetic that I received a call from Sis telling me SHE was ready for a trip and did I want to hike the trails of Santa Fe? She knows as well and I that we aren't gen-u-wine hikers, but we have been walking a mile a day for the last three weeks to slim our torsos. That very day I checked Elderhostel for their April 15-21 trip to Santa Fe and Abiquiqu and signed up. Now Sis and I are walking four miles a day, hoping to meet the Level 5 guidelines, which seem daunting for novices. We figured we could bluff our way with a hiking stick, backpack with a water pouch, and a floppy hat as part of a hikers uniform.

We are dressing as most catalogs indicate. I remember an event many years ago that still brings smiles to the faces of my husband and me.

I was working with a young man new to my company, and my husband, after my encouragement, asked Joe if he wanted to play golf with him and his friends that Saturday. "You play golf, don't you?" To which Joe responded, "Sure."

The threesome waited that morning for Joe to arrive, two asking R about Joe's handicap. R simply said he didn't know and they'd all have to find out. Just then this figure, decked out in typical English golf fashion--his argyle socks pulled to the knee where they met his knickers, a jaunty knit hat ( with a red ball, no less)askew on his head, looking like a golfer of ages past. Joe didn't know anything about the clubs he owned, how to line up the ball, hit it or retrieve it. His stroke off the tee carried 200 feet rather than 200 yards. An embarrassment for R, who had to endure teasing from his coworkers the following Monday.

Sis and I will have the appropriate gear. Our legs will be in fair shape, our hiking boots will look worn, and although our clothing will appear to have been ordered from the Eddie Bauer catalog, they will not be brand-new. We'll fit in with other hikers discovering what the New Mexico landscape can reveal us in six days of exploration.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spring Is in the Air

Such beautiful blooms wave at drivers from the dozens and dozens of Bradford Pear trees that Madison residents have planted! Accompanied by warm, sunny days, this is the best time of the year for Mississippians. Soon the dogwoods will show their pink or white dresses. Daffodils have been swaying in the breeze for about two weeks. My one camellia bush, which always flourishes in February, still is laden with pink faces.

I couldn't resist snapping the blooming pear trees lining a cemetery. A quiet scene.

And the Louisiana Strawberry Man is back. Ahh, Spring is wonderful.

Grocery Shopping

Amazon has a new service: grocery shopping.

Where were you, Amazon, when I had three kiddies hanging onto my legs?

Where were you when I was holding down three jobs (well, depending on who's counting: mother, wife, teacher) and hating every minute of Saturdays figuring which hour I'd spend traipsing the hallowed halls of the local grocery?

Now you appear, Amazon, just when I need you less. I hate to shop for groceries. I'll waste precious minutes any day of the week hum-hawing about leaving. I make out a list too long and then leave it still on the table at home. I stop by the library and engage a friend in conversation, watching the minutes tick away as I inwardly fuss at enjoying myself. Then I'm faced with the hanging responsibility. GET THE GROCERIES!! I take a deep breath, enter the car, take an extra few seconds to buckle the seatbelt, slowly turn on the engine, and glide into the grocery's parking lot.

Two hours later (yes, I read labels) I'm home exhausted. What's for dinner, He asks. Check out the bags, I reply.

I know, I got everything I needed except something for dinner.

I'd like to get Amazon to buy and deliver my groceries, but wouldn't that be cheating? Nowadays, I've no responsibilities that matter which warrants my using such service. Perhaps I should let other harried housewives and working women try the new method first.

But that doesn't mean I won't investigate.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Oscar Winning Movies

This is the first year in a long time that I've seen so many good movies. There was a dry spell for over five years that I'd not darken the doorway of a movie theatre. When our little community of Madison finally got its own theatre, located only a few miles from my house, I was estatic. No more going into the capitol city with my eyes darting left and right, expecting to have my purse snatched.

My sister and I have been movie and stage play aficionadas since our pre-teen years. We had a method after attending musicals in our early days: see the movie, buy the music on vinyl records, play repeatedly until we had learned the words, then on Saturday nights during "Hit Parade" sing along with the television music. As a result we can still sing when oldies are played on satellite radio. My sister kept the ball rolling, learning the words and music to Broadway shows that began in the 1970's. I faded then.

Nowadays after each movie we sit in the car or in a cafe and discuss the plot, characters, costumes, and geographical places. We usually agree with few disagreements.

Since January we've seen nearly all the movies nominated for an Oscar, missing seven.

Here are our recommendations if you happen to want a night out or an afternoon treat:

"Babel"(the four plots until the end keep you wondering why so many stories; you are surprised near the end to find the relationship of the characters in the various plots)
"Dreamgirls" (remembering the Supremes with original songs; tremendous casting; excellent acting and singing by JenniferHudson and Eddie Murphy, who should have won an oscar)
"Notes on a Scandal" (J Densch gives searing performance in this British movie)
"Letters from Iwo Jima" (great casting, seeing the other side of the taking of Iwo Jima reveals similarities to American soldiers-- subtitles)
"The Queen" (unbelievable Murren plays Q. Eliz perfectly)
"Volver" (subtitles--glimpse of Spanish customs still prevalent today)
"The Devil Wears Prada" ("Ugly Betty" tv show patterned after this one. Streep superb)

Eventually, if only through Netflix, we'll see the remainders: "Blood Diamond," "The Pursuit of Happyness," "Venus," "Half Nelson," "United 93," "Little Miss Sunshine," and "An Inconvenient Truth," although the latter not worthy of standing alongside the above movies. It should have been in another category.

This week we'll see "Wild Hogs"(old fellas trying to emulate cycle riders), "Black Snake Moon," featuring an old blues singer helping a frightened abused girl-good blues music,"and "Zodiak" about that killer we heard about years ago.

Thank goodness for $5 senior tickets!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Not Much of a TV Fan....But

Only last year around November, when I returned home from the Catskills, did I turn on the television one evening--Tuesday? Wednesday? and got hooked.

I'm talking about "American Idol." As I wait anxiously each week for another segment, I examine my taste in television. I'm a mystery fan, but few of the detective shows interest me. I enjoy the History Channel, Discovery, but why, all of a sudden, am I involved in kids auditioning for a place on Idol? Education...that's the only answer I can think of.

I was a high school teacher for nearly 30 years and traveled with my students of Spanish to Mexico for one or two weeks each year. I loved and appreciated these kids, showing them a different culture, teaching them the history of Mexico. Spain and South America. And I thoroughly enjoyed the new method I used enabling them to speak and understand Spanish within six weeks. I enjoyed seeing them excel in this language, in their lives. I had hoped they'd be travelers in their adult life as a result of classroom learning.

So I think watching "American Idol" allows me to cheer the talented young people who become a part of the show endeavoring to achieve the goals they set for themselves. I'm horrified at the some of the early losers who used profanity to express their idea of the unfairness of the judges decisions and demanded a second chance. Where did these kids grow up? Didn't their parents teach them that losing was a part of life? Who gave them the authority to believe that they're entitled to be the next "American Idol"?

Entitlement is not a part of "American Idol." Entitlement needs to be overhauled and many young people should learn that to get somewhere one has to pick oneself up after being knocked down. It was heartening to see a number of earlier years' losers who were auditioning again, having learned to improve their singing.

School hasn't been a part of my life for over 10 years. I still have a tightening of the throat when I hear a high school band play, see local talent in plays and shows, hear a debate between schools. I see in them the future of my community, my state, my nation.

So if I keep my television set on Fox Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I know I'm seeing a show devoid of crime, sex and vulgarity. Why would I want to change channels?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Impending Appointment

You might say I'm in the last 1/4 of my life. I really want to live to be 120, but I may only get to 100--if I watch my diet, weight, visit my doctor annually, get the necessary bone density and other tests, avoid accidents,I should meet my goal.

I'm preparing for the next doctor's appointment. In order to appear interested in my body, I'm now in a Pace program at the fitness center. Sort of. I've only been in it two weeks. There are only four machines I can exercise on without damaging my arthritic fingers, my miniscus in the left knee, and my body when general fatigue hits me after 30 minutes of work. That is when I feel "OLD". After Pace I hit the water (well, that's too strenuous to state. "Walk into the water" is more like it.) and work steadily for ten minutes, exercise slowly while I catch up on the news of my fellow water sprites, then out of the water in ten more minutes. If I reveal this information to my doctor, it will seem I'm not serious about exercising.

I can hear hear her questions, my answers, and my thoughts at my March appointment:

Do you exercise daily? Yes(when I think of it.)
Are you walking daily? Yes(when I go from one side of the house to the other.)
Are sweets a part of your routine eating? Of course not! (I don't eat candy now, cookie craving is slowing down, and I eat an ice cream sandwich occasionally.)
Do you realize how much weight you are carrying? Yes(But I don't think I'm fat! Just a tad big around the waist, and the hips, and the thighs.)
Do you drink sodas? Rarely (But I have to have a Coke occasionally!)
What size clothes are you wearing? What? That's not a doctor's question! (I hate to admit I used to be a size 8 and now a whopping 14!)
Hmm. I think you underestimate the necessity of eating correctly, exercising at least an hour a day, and going without sweets of any kind. Do you understand the importance? Yes'sum (I solemnly swear to do my exercises at least three times weekly-and drink water every time I crave a sweet.)

I dread the annual doctor's appointment, but if I work hard to have good, solid answers to any question posed, I should get out of the office with little admonition.

It's not my entire fault that I'm bigger around than 50 years ago. It's genetic.(No one will take that as an excuse.) OK, so my waist has an extra fold, my tummy difficult to suck in, my thighs glue to each other in summer heat--I still love me!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Latte, Please

The first time I saw people sitting at a table sipping coffee and reading was in a Boston book store over 20 years ago. I thought to myself then, why don't we have those in my hometown? Can a person bring a book into the shop, open it and read all day? How many coffees or teas must one drink to keep the table?

Next time I saw coffee drinkers not in a restaurant was in Seattle. At that time Starbucks was in its infancy. There were those little shops for take outs only with small tables outside for lingerers.Seattle was also the first place for coffee take outs, too. August being the best month to be outdoors in this city,I saw more folks chatting over their java. I admired them and the time they had to sit, drink, and talk with friends. I know, Europe has had this tradition for eons. But not the South.

I've never sat anywhere chatting over coffee. By the time I married the neighborhood kaffeklatsch was nearly extinct. Coffee and chatting were usually after dinner in a restaurant. However, since lattes have come into existence, I can enjoy a cup here and there. But sit for hours and read or watch the world pass by? Never. Until Saturday night last.

Our oldest son, who is the only unattached male of his community of friends, spends hours on the weekends at a local coffee shop. Since our small community has grown, so has the increase of coffee shops. "Shop" sounds like the old fashioned cafes where one can get a quick breakfast or lunch with one's coffee. "House" may be a substitute.

After a Saturday of errands, we weren't ready to go home. R and I decided to try out the coffee place nearby. New Experience. We called our son and asked him to meet us and instruct us on the modern manner of sitting and drinking.

Luckily, this night a jazz trio played. As I said to R, "This is our music; we can sing along." This was not jazz, our son said, but then again, he doesn't know the jazz his dad and I grew up with. We ordered our drinks and after emptying the cups, we ordered a light supper of sandwiches. As the music drifted in and around the patrons, I relaxed and thought, "This is nice!Maybe we can make this a regular stop." We thought of all our friends who may enjoy accompanying us next time, giving us someone our age with whom to chat.

The three hours we spent at Java and Jazz was quite an introduction. Since Saturday I've tried to figure out when I can drop by with a friend, but other matters seemed more pressing. I just am not one to drop by for a cup of java. Unlike our son, I have to have a reason other than needing a caffeine fix. I refuse consider surfing the web while sipping, or read the latest mystery and slurp. I can do those activities at home (and prop my feet). But come this Saturday, March 3, I'm going to listen again to the jazz trio and order a large latte.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Weather...What Else is There to Talk About?

The central area of Mississippi isn't experiencing snow or weather that is considered "winter". We have lows in the 20's nights and highs daytime in 40's, but inconsistently. I have no idea what really cold weather is like, say in northeast NY, where the snow has compacted house roofs with over 9.5". If bad weather comes here in January or February (maybe every 10 years), it's usually in the form of an ice storm. And the natives in their cars may as well be novices on ice skates.

I'm beginning to believe that this area is quite a comfy place to live. The summers are as hot as those in Manhattan; the fall is warmer; and when cooler weather hits, it's around the time the state fair arrives in town--mid October. Then, like magic, the weather turns warm again, sometimes into December.

We have lots of rain. And unlike what I've seen in upstate NY where I live summers, we have mud puddles, water puddles. In the Catskills, the dirt is similar to loess, and water passes through the soil or runs along the base of trees, taking with it the precious grains that hold up massive pines.

Most of the state has good soil, except around Natchez, along the bluffs, where the loess is sliding into the Mississippi River by the inches. Some of the once beautiful homes, now only housing vagrants, sit perched on the bluffs, waiting for a thunder roll and a hard rain to push them into the river. One has to see the sights of these homes to realize the danger imposed by the soil. It's been said that part of downtown Natchez will eventually dump into Ole' Man River.

Weather used to be the topic for old folks only. Now we have a weather station to keep us appraised of changing climate. Weather used to be more predictable. Remember putting away your winter clothes and bringing out your summer ones? Not now.

There's something beautiful when the warmth surrounds us in the fall and a heavy rain pours out like salt from a shaker. It's a challenge to run into the open, raise your face to the heavens and feel first the sprinkle, then the force of drops, and finally the pouring rain that forces you onto the porch. Even the lightning that streaks across the sky is like a pen of silver ink scribbling warnings.
All this seems friendly, kind...until you're warned of an impending storm, perhaps one of tornadic proportions.

Weather has become a national crisis. How little we onlookers understand the exhaustion and frustration victims go through as result of losing their homes, their personal possessions, their...everything.

Let's not forget all those suffering from weather's torment as we squish through the snow, as we breathe in the freshness of a cold morning, as we run in a pouring rain to shelter. Better yet,read the following blog: http:\\

Monday, February 05, 2007

One Language I Can't Learn

Trying to conform to the new blogger standards, I run across Template. Shall I replace or keep the old one? I had difficulty with the old one, but, pray tell, what does all the mumbo-jumbo/gobblygook/ mean in the new Template? I can't even copy and paste a section without a warning telling me my HTML cannot be accepted!

Needless to say, I'm not into learning a new language at my age. I had difficulty with the template before a new one was introduced. I guess I'll have to be content with moose hill journal and wildside musings remaining with no blue line underneath. However, I hope you readers are checking those websites weekly.

With my computer tech son now engaged in wooing his girlfriend, setting up appointments with him to relieve my computer anxiety is like getting a date for surgery. So I'll just let Google know how confused a little ole' lady from Mississippi is, and maybe a simpler way of explanation will be printed.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Yahoo! I Created One

Those of you who use in any of your mailings know there have been some articles on password security. Today I created a new password that(forgive me)passes muster. Suggested was using nine letters, numbers and symbols in some combination. Fifteen was the preferable number, as that would give hackers a bit more challenge in breaking. If my new password will take over 10 years to break, I'm home free.

One interesting read was "Password Recovery Speeds", put out by This article informs the reader how long it takes hackers to break combinations of upper case letters, lower case letters, combinations of upper and lower, using letters and numbers. I think, though, you should read Bruce Schneier's web published articles. Begin with and check the list at left. I read "Secure Passwords Keep You Safe" followed by the lockdown site mentioned earlier, which is a hyperlink in the article.

I have opted to change my password, which presently are eight differently spelled ones. However, I began looking for a root word to which I could add suffixes and prefixes. When my eyes spied the sentence saying how the hacking machines could rush through the English dictionary and numbering system to eliminate the odds of one's password being broken, I made a decision.

On my bookshelf are numerous foreign language dictionaries. So I plucked one, skimmed through the alphabet glancing quickly at words, and discovered one slightly pronounceable(without ever having heard the word before), saw its apt definition and began to play with the letters.

I tried separating the word and capitalizing a few letters; next, I added a few numbers I thought I could remember, and typed a few symbols. So if the word had been cloisonne I typed thus:

c l o i s o n n e. Then I capitalized a few: cLoiSonNE. Next, I added numbers: cLo3iSon5N9E. But not being finished I added a few symbols: cL[o3iS?o5N9#E. And that became my password. Without realizing it, I had 14 digits.

Next, I typed the final result a dozen times to be sure that I was using my right and left fingers to create the final word.

This, in essence, is how I arrived at my password. The author of the article stated that one would have to have the password in a handy place, and to be sure that a friend/relative/family member could break into your computer, you should put the password in a safety deposit box instead of pasting it on your computer. I will have mine pasted in several hiding spots around the house until I can recite this in my sleep!

Well, I taped my new password above the space on the screen so I could see it as I typed it. I've changed one email address to include this new combination. I doubt any hacker is looking at what he/she can get from my computer, but then again, I do use my credit card numbers when online shopping.

Do you use the same password for all your sign-ins? I've always had a different one. Staying informed as to what to enter when I opened Amazon, my bank, frequent online shops, etc, I kept them all on a list and guarded with my life. Now, if all of them become cL[o3iS?o5N9#E, I should be able to memorize the combo and have no need for a list.

Just in case I've misrepresented Bruce Schneier's suggestions, read the above articles for yourself. Good luck with your new, undecipherable, unbreakable password!