Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Resolution for You

As I greet another new year, I vow to continue recording my experiences, adventures, and observations of everyday life. Not everyone is interested in sitting down and writing what he/she feels may take up a lot of time. I'm a firm believer everyone should try to make a habit of maintaining a journal. A composition book does just fine. Typing on the computer is a better way if handwriting has become a chore. Of course, most of you who are reading this are bloggers, who believe in doing this very thing. The excuse that one doesn't write well for such a project is making excuses. Write as you speak. Nothing fancy, no heavy vocabulary. Using the internet, which records for posterity, is one way of being sure that the words aren’t lost in some bank box, shoe box stored at home, or in your trunk in the attic.

In my Documents is a folder I label “Writings.” Some topics have two sentences; others pages, still others have paragraphs. What is revealed are for the future enjoyment of my adult children when they are too old to remember much of what happened in their lives. They’ll be introduced to people I’ve met who made a difference in my world, rationing and air raids during World War II, my grandparents whom they never met, joyous birthdays, Christmases, and summer trips. Some minds diminish as they grow older and finer points of these happy (and sometimes sad) times are forgotten. But not when there is written confirmation.

Recently I bought a tape recorder. I do my most creative thinking driving to and from destinations. Short ones to the grocery store; longer ones to the other side of town. Nevertheless, I’ve lost thoughts, ideas, contacts I wanted to record because I couldn’t remember later what had floated through my mind as I wrestled with traffic. The tape recorder will have my voice, something easy to forget by a son or daughter as my existence grows faint.

Home movies also record important events. But they don't substitute for a journal, but supplement the written word. Some journalists add photos, clippings, ticket stubs to important events--all these are wonderful and leaves a colorful history to be treasured. Likewise with family history.

A few months ago I found my mother’s 1938 diary.It is approximately 4”x6”. She wrote something within the three lines marked for recording . Some entries were short phrases; other entries had significant informtion. By reading the entire year I discovered how my mother thought that year, what she did, whom she saw, how she felt on special or ordinary days.

There was little money in 1938. The United States was struggling from the Depression of 1928. Since most people we knew were in the same situation, life dealt nearly everyone the same problems Mother expressed at times the sadness that she couldn't buy a new dress or additional groceries to feed the continuous company that arrived on her doorstep. She never wrote that life has passed her by or was unfair. She possessed optimism, as several times she wrote: “But that’s ok. “ or “We’ll do better next time.“ It is that optimism that Sis and I remember about our mother when she met obstacles in her path.

Her precious words are important to us today. She took the time to write even the mundane everyday chores she faced, the movies she and I saw (and we saw several a week at 5 cents a ticket)and who our neighbors were. I learned that I first attended the local movie theatre’s “Kiddie Matinee” that year, that my sister was born without much fanfare, that the death of our grandmother ripped the heart of her youngest daughter.

While my parents enjoyed retirement and were alert, I presented each a composition book with instructions of “Write about your life.” Daddy immediately scratched his history within days, even adding an Addendum. Mother wrote about her life before marriage. When they came to live with us in Madison, I plied them with questions about what they’d not written. Daddy told about the entertainment groups that traveled along country lanes and roads, performing on a make-shift stage from the back of their wagon. He explained their simple costumes, the songs and skits they performed. I handed him our old tape recorder one day at the breakfast table and Daddy became the actor, mocking the announcer at one of those performances, introducing the performer--himself-- who sang every verse of some of the old songs, just as though they had been played for an audience. If he could have danced--he would have.

Until you read or hear recorded memorable events composed by your own parents, siblings, or other relatives do you understand the importance of the written and oral word. For this reason I implore all of you readers to think seriously about writing or recording your own experiences for the sake of those who come after you. Writing a blog doesn’t tell the entire story of your life. Developing further material for your family is as important as the box filled with an odd assortment of photos, letters, and documents you bury in your backyard to be found many years later.

Fifty years from now there'll be laughter and tears from your grown children as they read about family adventures you took the time to detail in writing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Welcoming Extended Family

Rarely, these days, do I prepare a lavish lunch for Thanksgiving. Perhaps because there's no one to cook for except R and me, and we don't need to overeat. Yes, yes, I know we could volunteer at a homeless shelter, but the holdup is standing on our feet. But that day, because we were welcoming four new people to our family in January, two of them had lunch with us five, two of our adults came from NY and ME for this special time. I COOKED to the astonishment of my family.

Despite beginning the day before, having a menu, shopping in advance,and the stress of finding our parents' old china with enough plates to service everyone, my legs and feet cried "Need rest!" However, I don't welcome this job every year because I don't pretend to be a creative cook. Who wants to eat a meal in which I open cans and packages and heat? For special days? Absolutely NOT! I'll let the adult kids take over next time.Our tradition for years.

Oh, I stopped during the day, the week, to think how fortunate we are at our age to continue to enjoy the fruits of the earth, be blessed with happiness, relatives, friends, and a few glitches in life (needed to keep us balanced). We know blessings happen every day, not just once a year.

The highlight of the week was watching our NYC son fit his brother and his dad for their "wedding suits". We saw S in action--just another day at his job. No, he doesn't fit wedding suits, but he does deal in clothing and can instantly size you up and tell you what you can and cannot wear. A big help for our upcoming wedding in January. A wonderful Thanksgiving week for us to be together. I hope yours was equally as rewarding.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fall Is Here at Last

While all the East was having their leaves change, here we sat in Mississippi looking longingly at our trees surrounding us trying to get a clue as to when they would change their garments. Suddenly we awoke one morning last week to find across the street, down the street, around the corner, yellows had appeared. Reds and oranges are not often seen among the commoners. One has to ride out where the countryside has been ripped apart by concrete jungles to find age-old trees that give off the oranges and reds. But with the cold spell upon us, we are enjoying a feast for the eyes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008



Can't read my title? If you have always wanted to write a novel, NaNoWriMo may be your ticket.

In my Mississippi writing group several years ago a successful writer suggested 50,000 words in one month--ONE MONTH???!! Impossible, I thought. But in further conversation with this fine lady, she reported that you sit at your computer and WRITE. She states that you can't stop and edit, you just write, anything that comes to mind, whether it makes sense or not. The point of the exercise is to empty your brain of all the words stored there. In this way the writer begins to truly write. Winners are those who complete 50,000 within the 30 days Hidden within these millions of words will be a seed of a novel. My writer friend did this and produced her first novel.

Well, I started my own NaNoWriMo novel in September to see how successful I could be without a time constraint. I wrote daily from 4 to 8 hours the entire month ignoring housekeeping, meals for R, appointments, fitness--all for the sake of this novel. By the end of the month I had totaled 25,000 words. I wasn't disappointed, because I had begun with a story in mind, based on a blog entry of my daughter's of something that occurred in the 1950's when I was a teen.

As October waned I finished the novel with 50,700 words. Unbelievable! I found myself --as I left 25,000 words behind-- typing as fast as the words came. My mind had opened up to give me support. I now know that I didn't need NaNoWriMO at all, just a good story line and...imagination. Next, edit, and prevail on friends to read and give me their reaction, and who knows...?

NOTE: NaNoWriMo=National Novel Writing Month

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Book Signings Reward for Authors and Readers

Recently I attended a book signing for a fellow writer. John Floyd of Brandon, MS, has compiled and published his second book of short stories. He is the master of shorts, mysteries that anyone can be read when there’s little time, like on a short bus ride, a bathroom trip, or waiting for the gas tank to fill up.

He once told me, after I had read my version of a short story to a writing group, that magazines and readers were crying for stories that were “short and sweet.” I had labored over one story because I thought it was “too” short. I should have taken his advice ten years ago. He did. And he’s been publishing ever since.

Floyd is a prolific writer. He enjoys spinning yarns that have an unexpected ending. I can see him at his computer wearing a sly grin and chuckling, outwitting his readers as the words flow faster than he can type. His plots are as varied as plants in a nursery. He teaches night classes in creative writing and has a large following. That was evident in the two-hour long line that waited patiently for his signature. But Floyd doesn’t scribble his name; he writes a personal note to each purchaser. That endears him more to us.

This is an unassuming man who is most grateful to those of us who attempt to follow in his footsteps. He’s our cheerleader. With his urging he’s seen several fellow writers go from zero to publishing. He has mastered the technique of writing and fills the mailbox of magazines with an overload of stories. He can be found mostly in “The Strand Magazine” and “Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine“, although he‘s had stories in more than 200 publications. In 2007 he received the Derringer Award.

Floyd walked swiftly into a small auditorium after the signing period to speak to a waiting audience. He told us one story about sitting next to a lady reading the “Ellery Queen Magazine” on an airplane. In that issue was one of his contributions. He watched her out of the corner of his eye to see if she would read his story. She did. After she closed the magazine, he leaned over and said, “I’ve a copy of that magazine. Did you enjoy the stories?” She answered “Yes”. He then asked if she liked the last story she read, and again she said she did. Then he announced “I wrote that story.” She looked at him incredulously and begged to differ with him. He insisted, but only until he identified himself through his driver’s license did she believe him.

John Floyd isn’t a big name--yet. However, his books have been found as far away as Toronto. Nevada Barr and Steve Hamilton, both famous in their own right, have a few words to say on the jacket. If you happen upon Midnight or his first book Rainbow’s End and Other Stories be sure to purchase a copy.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Weekend of Fortune

Everyone told us, “You’re inviting STRANGERS to stay with you ?” Our local son said, “Do you know what you may be getting into?”.

Everyone told them, “How can you just go that distance (Arkansas to Mississippi) to stay with someone you DON”T know?” “Do you know what you’re doing?”

Yet, two couples-- a fellow genealogist and her husband and my husband and I spent a weekend in our Mississippi home filled with unsuspecting surprises.The weekend resounded with camaraderie, common ancestors, and equal sharing of chores, making for a visit far more worthwhile than any of us expected.

I had met V online at www.ancestry.com where she was researching a family no longer alive. I had known this Jackson family during my high school years and had enough information to share with her. This family’s only son had been my first steady boyfriend. From there the emails flew. When I discovered V’s husband was a descendant from the same old Mississippi family as my husband, R, that sealed the trip. A family reunion was held on Saturday,October 4, an opportunity for V to located two cemeteries (only researchers like to wander among tombs looking for relatives), take snapshots (an important duty) and share stories.

The weekend came to an end and the couples who were complete strangers had become friends.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Living in a New World

Stephen Colbert is sending his DNA into space. Have you read that the video game designer Richard Garriott was one of the few civilians planning to travel with the next astronauts into space? He wants to carry with him some cloning examples in case our world goes kaput. A new world can begin with cloning all the DNA that has been put in a time capsule and buried in outer space. What will this New World do with dozens of Colberts?

I need to be cloned. I’m not famous as Colbert, but my qualifications may well be as good as his. Who is his he? According to Wilkipedia:

“Stephen Tyrone Colbert (pronounced /koʊɫˈbεɹ/; born May 13, 1964
is an American comedian, satirist, actor and writer, known for his ironic style particularly in his portrayal of uninformed opinion leaders), and for his deadpan comedic delivery.”

You have to see him on Comedy Central to get a hint of this guy who wants a dozen or more like him to inhabit this New World.

Why can’t I be cloned?
I am not a comedian, although I make some folks laugh occasionally;
I am not a satirist, but can be biting in the defense of my principles;
I’ve had my chance at acting on theater stages and the stage of life;
I am a writer, of sorts, of many manuscripts still lying in desk
waiting to be dusted off, edited and sent into the arms of a waiting
I am a person who is honest , forthright, sincere, hard working, nostalgic, romantic, friendly--well, just an all-round nice gal;

I’ve never cheated, physically injured anyone, stolen goods (well, I did take home a few sheets of copy paper once from school), served time in jail or the pen, had a DUI or a speeding ticket, held up a bank or a convenience store, embarrassed anyone (although a few students may disagree), disgruntled anyone (uh, oh, does a parent seeking school rule exceptions for his daughter count?), never been considered hoity toity, nor have I disowned my family (although I’ve entertained the idea occasionally).

So with all those good vibes strumming, why not nominate my DNA to begin a few good folks on the next planet, while my first soul basks in heavenly pastures?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tropic Thunder

No, this isn’t one of the storms that hit Louisiana and Mississippi last weekend. It is one of the latest comedies my sister and I saw on my birthday. She was a bit skeptical when I said I needed some laughs, but she went along with me like the trooper she is and waited in the dark theatre while I reviewed the plot. We are sticklers for a good plot, creative dialogue, good directors, and excellent photography. So you can imagine that she felt inwardly that I had chosen a poor movie.

Ben Stiller sometimes makes me laugh, sometimes not. But in this picture, in which he starred, directed, and produced with help, he creates his comedic antics which are more exaggerated than funny. But when you combine four other actors playing roles almost out of their genre, you have laughter bubbling into the empty seats in front of you. (We go to the first showing.)

First, you have to sit through two ridiculous advertisements, actually a part of the movie we learn later, wondering how far off you’ve been in new sodas and music, then the movie begins unexpectedly. Here are five guys--Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr, Brandon T. Jackson, Jack Black and Jay Baruschel who play their characters to a T. Special notice goes to Robert Downey, Jr. in an Academy-award class perfection who unbelievably plays a black soldier (complete with a dye job on his skin) and speaking in an unfamiliar voice. He doesn’t seem to know much about the common expressions of black people, of which Jackson, a true black, reminds him constantly, but he slings out lines of black characters from TV shows and movies he’s seen(like lines from "The Jeffersons").

The premise is that these five are to play soldiers fighting a battle in Viet Nam, the story of which has been taken from a book written by a former ‘Nam vet, Nick Nolte. To save his skin, the director takes the author’s suggestions to give credence to the actors in a real setting and dumps the actors in the wild jungles of ‘Nam with a script and directions to the locations of the scenes. Unknown to them hidden cameras are placed high in trees.

Although there are a lot of explosions and gunfire, at least there aren’t any wrecking automobiles, buses and trains, so I was able to sit through this part of the action. Sometime laughing uncontrollably by the dialogue, I released all frustrations of having been in bed for two weeks with an infected sciatic nerve. Surprisingly one character, whom I shall not name, is totally disguised and plays a character unlike any he’s done before. If you don’t guess him early in the movie, he’s last in the roll call of characters at the end of the show. Even though my sister said early “Isn’t that ???” I replied “Noo way!” only to find out how right she was. (Just don't read the list of characters before you go so you can enjoy the surprise.)

For an entertaining couple of hours, see Tropic Thunder, especially if it’s raining outside--you get enough mud and rain and thunder-like noise sitting through this movie.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Throw Out the Old...

We've spent most of the summer "thinking" that certain pieces of furniture should be out of our house because we are going to furnish with CLEAN in mind. For some reason R thinks that clean means nothing on top of any surface. If I let him, the bookcases would stand stark nekked. Our first move was to isolate the pieces we wanted to give away, sell, or consign. At the time we weren't sure what to do. Son J didn't want our old stuff, son S and daughter J would die if we shipped our choices to them, so we had to tear our emotions away for these objects, especially a living room set that had kept us comfy for over 20 years. A chance sight of a sign had me turning the car around and checking out this consignment store. At least they could come out and load the furniture. Now that the deed is done we have 90 days to hope that some customer will visit the store and declare what we have on display there will be just what they have always wanted. In the meantime, as the end of the term approaches, we'll have to decide what to do with the unwanted, unsold items.

I'll just wait until November to worry about that problem. For now I'll have to tackle my studio and see what I can do without. Another few months of separating my emotions from the simple tools I've come to enjoy using but have found unnecessary should keep me busy.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

20 Years Ago It Was...

One of the advantages of a blog is that the writer can record events that can aid ancestry researchers and generations to come to assess the events and writing techniques of the time. Following is my fading recollection of three weeks in NYC.

About to re-enter the teaching world after 10 years of writing and compiling construction information into a weekly newsletter, I searched for a short summer school session where I could revive my skills in Spanish. With son S’s consent, I chose The New School in NYC and moved into his two-room apartment, seven floors up in a brownstone on 76th street W.

My routine began with a train ride to 16th street, then walking back two blocks to the building housing the school. This was my first time to attend a school within a city, not on a wide-spread campus.

My first impression of the class was the circle of chairs around the room, the immediate speaking of Spanish when the bell rang (and I usually arrived at the bell), and the charming Mexican professor, Senor David Zuniga. Students were few enough to enjoy: a priest, a young college student, a woman married to an Argentine, another woman recently moved from Jamaica, a third woman teaching Spanish to adults, a businessman interested in improving the language, and a few others I’ve totally forgotten about. And, yes, Me, Myself and I. We introduced ourselves the first day in Spanish. I explained I was from Mississippi reentering the teaching field and wanted to speak and use more Spanish in the classroom.

By the second week I was getting to class five minutes early. This allowed conversations in English. My plans were to sit in different chairs every few days in order to get to know those around the room. I chose first , the priest who said, “I’ve been waiting to see if you spoke Southern, as you don’t in your Spanish.” That broke the ice with the others, and soon I was arriving 10 minutes early so we could all chat. I switched seats several more times before the end of the session.

The class was a review of Spanish grammar as well as conversation. We had to read the La Prensa that our prof’s partner edited. This gentleman visited the class and my friend who was married to the Argentine was the only one who could understand him. She had felt lost with the Mexican-accented words of Sr. Zuniga. The rest of us were lost with the Argentine accent of Mr. Editor. That class session was recorded for ever with the photograph above.

Those three weeks were filled with various classmates’ directions to see this and see that, to avoid this subway and that street. All this occurred after I was asked how I got to and from the apartment every day. Explaining the difficulty of climbing up seven flights of stairs daily was limited to one time only, I told how I slowly walked from 14th to 76th, taking all afternoon, stopping for lunch, sitting on public benches, lounging in book stores, strolling through parks. One woman insisted on taking me on several occasions to a different place after class. She showed me the market at Washington Square, introduced me to my first Japanese lunch, took me to Forbes Building to show me the boyhood toys of the family,saw the telephone building with displays of old and new telephones, and pointed out various shopping areas. Then the Jamaican woman insisted on taking me to the tourist office where I could get discounted tickets to visit museums, use the subway, attend plays, etc. She warned me not to go into the underground at that location because of the high incidence of crime. And this came because I was from the South. I played the part of a bumbling Fanny Mae and enjoyed every minute of their aid.

Those days were filled with wonderment at my second time in the big city. I reveled in losing my way trying to find a subway station that was different from my usual route, discovering a high school in the city, stumbling around SoHo, wandering through Chinatown-- all during the month of June. And at the end of each day as I arrived at 76th street I’d buy a dinner and trudge up the flight of stairs I swear was a replica of those of the Pyramids outside Mexico City—steep, steep, steep.

These memories came flooding back when I found the newspaper photo. Now, which woman is the author of this blog? Hint: she on the front row and is holding a copy of the paper. Find who looks more Southern, and you have ME! (And remember, hang near the prof for a good grade!)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Perks of Vacationing

Traveling with my sister takes us to the far reaches of a town in any state that has something of interest.Time doesn't stop us. We want to see a place, we see it. Sometimes these destinations take a lot of inquiry and getting our mind’s compass in gear. We do this the hard way, without a GPS. We stop folks on the road, beginning with “Good morning, ya’ll” and ending up where we had planned. Sometimes, we are surprised at the unpleasant areas we have to ride through, as in the case of the cemetery for Buddy Holley’s grave.

Who knew when he was buried that Lubbock, TX would extend the opposite way, a new overpass would be constructed nearby, and the subdivision of tiny houses would almost be forgotten? It was 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning when we drove into the cemetery, not knowing which of the sites would be Buddy’s. However, a slow drive, and suddenly, there it was, alongside the paved road! We snapped our photos and left, high-fiving our success.

From the website "hollywoodusa.co.uk" is a synopsis of Who BH was,for those of you who’ve forgotten his music, or never heard of him:

7thSeptember 1936 - 3rd February 1959
Born Charles Hardin Holley, Lubbock, Texas.
Rock musician who in his short career of 18 months changed the face of Rock N Roll music. Buddy was the first singer to sing with his fellow group members (The Crickets), which had until then been singers in front of a group. Way ahead of his time in using many recording features unheard of at that time. These included sound effects, acoustic & voice dubbing. His music inspired the groups of the 60's including "The Beatles" and "The Rolling Stones". Buddy and his music still live on to this present day through films, radio, TV and stage shows. The Buddy Holly Appreciation Society still meet once a year to remember Buddy and make sure the music never dies. Died in a plane crash with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper near Clear Lake, Iowa after appearing at the Surf Ballroom. There is a fans memorial at the crash site to the singers . Buddy has been immortalized in both film (The Buddy Holly Story) and song (Don McClean's "American Pie"). Unlike many recordings from that time Buddy's records & sound have not dated and are still played by DJ's all over the world. Buddy's legacy is that he paved the way for all future groups and began many recording techniques which are still used today. A legend whose music still lives on and probably always will.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ohh, We're Soo Fat!

Surely, you’ve read recently that Mississippians have won the Fat Award for the fourth time. Hey, if you had our biscuits, cane ribbon syrup, grits and real butter, summer vegetables cooked in ham hock, cornbread with chitlin’s, and the variety of fruits at our disposal, you’d find it difficult to think thin.

Mississippians love their desserts. Home made ice cream, baked goodies, fudge brownies, not to mention candies made in our kitchens, and the sweetest of all—iced tea!! We drink gallons of sweetened tea during the summer. A day isn’t considered a good one without a tall, frosted glass of sweet tea. Go to any McDonald’s, McAlister’s, Krystal, and restaurants scattered throughout the state and you will find sweet tea so sweet your brain waves will jitterbug if you aren’t attuned to sugar.

In this week’s local Clarion-Ledger one of my favorite columnists, a popular chef and cookbook author, Robert St. John, defends us Mississippians and our love for good food by making this suggestion to the CDC on polling:

“Instead of a telephone poll to decide which state is fatter, the CDC needs to rent the Georgia Dome and host an Olympic-style competition of all 50 states. We might not win the 400 meter relay every time, but we could kick butt in the shot pu ,dead lift and pie-eating contest.

We’ll dust off all of the old high school cheers. When competing with Colorado—the nation’s skinniest state—we can chant from the sidelines:

“Two bits, four bits, gumbo roux, you better look out or we’ll sit on you!”

(Thanks, Robert, for your cheering words!)

We never get tired of fried chicken, barbecued meats, and catfish found on every day’s menu. And when you hear of a friend saying he’s going to neighboring New Orleans, he’ll mention in the same breath, FOOD: Louisiana is fourth in obesity with their mouth-watering Cajun foods, among them gumbo and jambalaya, which we Mississippians have adopted into our menus.

There's a local country restaurant just on the edge of Madison called Hamil’s. Ohh, do they know how to barbecue ribs. Their menu of “down-home” cooking packs the dining halls every day between 11 a. m. and 2 p. m. The folks there are known not to turn down a hungry straggler a bit past closing time.

My family has agreed that any of our northern friends who will brave the hot summer and visit us will be treated to lunch at Hamil’s.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Long Days of Summer

What do you do on a rainy night in Rio?
What do you say when the lady says, “Si, Si”
Where do you go when can’t go for a walk—
Do you stay home and talk, or do you sit and sigh
“Ay, Ay.”

This old song from either a Hope/Crosby movie or one of those extravagant musicals of the 1940’s runs through my mind. It’s Latin rhythm keeps me swaying. Here’s my poetic entry:

What do I do in Madison, when the temperature is high?
What can I say when I’m asked why not New York?
Looking outdoors I see the sun and dappled shade
and turn back to my book, and, yes, I sigh
“ Oh my,Oh my!”

That’s the record of my days at home, battling the urge to move around outdoors. No interest in improving my jewelry work, no custom orders, no deadlines. Reading six books a week (Don’t ask me names or authors) has become a nighttime labor of love. So for daytime business—no television for me—I’ve returned to my roots. On I’ve begun to enter into my family tree three years of methodical gathering of letters, public records, and correspondence, as well as notes from hundreds of phone calls scratched on bits and pieces of paper. A lot of updating from the last time I worked. This move came after emphasizing—in the harshest tone of voice-- to my kids not discard a single box of genealogy. Being unable to predict their interest in holding on to thousands of pictures gathered from over 100 sources and those notes no one can interpret, gave me impetus to go online.

Sitting before the computer during the morning, I turn my head occasionally, looking through the window to check the droopiness of the plants on the patio, making the decision to water or not, then gulping a mouth full of cold water before resuming work.

By 2:00 p.m. I take a siesta and dream of what I could be doing at our bit of heaven in the lower Catskills. I like to imagine that the temperature there is similar to Madison this summer. (We still haven’t discovered a battery-operated fan that moves the air satisfactorily for the cabin.) In this state of mind with the air conditioning keeping me cool, I don’t miss lying on a steaming mattress in a stifling cabin on a sun-drenched hillside waiting impatiently for the cool of the evening.

Be satisfied with what you’ve got, I remind myself. And that’s why I’m not pining for the hills and water and woods of New York.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Landscaping Makes for Beautiful

Summer in my hometown is glorified by its landscaping. Main street and neighborhoods are showy places worth driving through. Anywhere in Madison and nearby Ridgeland, two neighboring cities outside Jackson, the capital, some of the most beautiful plantings can be found on street corners, fronting wooded areas, gasoline stations, private businesses with drive-up access, entrances to schools, parks and subdivisions. The largest plantings use crape myrtles, those gorgeous trees whose flowers resemble bunches of grapes. They bloom from spring through fall. The colors are magnificent: lavender, light and dark rose, and white.

The name crape has been often seen spelled as crepe. We give it the hard sound that rhymes with "grape." I've never heard "krehp" despite one spelling it as "crepe". The family name is Lagerstroemi. They are so popular that some nurseries specialize in producing and selling just this one tree. (see www.crape-myrtle.com) They grow up to 40 feet and as short as three. One breeder sells miniatures as small as eight inches. Because this shrub/tree can grow anywhere in the world, in temperatures as low as –15 degrees F, it’s any wonder gardeners haven’t discovered and planted this beautiful flowering wonder. They are a “genus of some 50 species of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs native to the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia and parts of Oceania…the French botanist Andrew Michaux introduced this species to Charleston, SC circa 1790.”(www.Wilkipedia.com)

We decided to join the rest of our neighbors by planting two in our yard in April. Already they are blooming. The one below can be seen from our bedroom window.

Crape Myrtles are hardy, woody, perennials that deserve a spot in everyone's yard.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Surprise, Surprise!

The time was heading towards 11a.m. Saturday.The telephone rang:

HE--Is this Vivian?
I--Yes, sir ( I immediately knew he was an older man)
HE--I found your tape recorder in the parking lot of Fresh Market Friday.
I--Uhh (I don't own a tape recorder)
HE--Well, it's a Samsung (aha!)
I--My cell phone! I lost it??? I didn't realize it wasn't in my purse!!
HE--Well, I know how that is, I used to sell phones. Anyway, I'll return this to Fresh Market to the manager's office and you can pick it up.

He didn't offer his name, but I thanked him profusely, wondering if I should ask to meet him for coffee to further show my appreciation---but I didn't.

Funny how he didn't know it was a cell phone, but that may be because he doesn't own one. My Samsung is RED and a flip top. Perhaps he was afraid to open it, as if it were a woman's purse. I retrieved the phone, the battery was still active, and when I turned it over, there was the self-adhesive address label I had put on just two weeks ago. Lucky me. This phone could have been in the hands of a young businessman who needed some free phone calls.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Why We Love Our Summers

Here's a hodge-podge of what we love about the lower Catskills:

Our 12'x 12' cabins, the right one houses the kitchen/dining with the bedroom on the left.
We're proud of the outdoor bath house where the vanity greets you.
Our prized 1932 tub,where we stand for our showers. The compost toilet isn't exciting to show.
A quick look at our kitchen stove...and our eating area...

The fern "painting" that greets us as we approach the cabins from a different direction...and Beaverbrook, right, a stone's throw down the hill. A short trip up the hill from the brook is our son's cabin, below. He lives "off the grid" weekends only.

In Mississippi we sit in our roomy home with all necessary amenities when we'd rather be in our small cabin, where we haul water several times a week, replenish the ice in the ice chest just as often, and sit on our new deck, which isn't quite ready for a snapshot. This is our little heaven, our Shangri-La.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


We have some beautiful photos taken by second son several years ago of people and scenes of Myranmar, or Burma, as I remember it. The former is the original name. Perhaps the English renamed it when they inhabited the area. So much destruction in that peninsula of a country! I want to share some of the beauty.

Today we don't know what is and isn't. Gone are the houses on stilts, the fishermen, many of the elderly. Looking into faces of the destitute we don't see color and beauty, only sadness. Sometimes the only memories of a place are found in photographs taken in happier times.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

One Less to Care For

Another hot day was waning. Sunlight still reflected on the fields spread out across the delta plains. Cooler air wouldn’t settle until the early morning hours. Inside the concrete block building, lying on a cold, steel table covered with a white sheet lay Earl Wesley Berry. Through his lawyers he had attempted to avoid this departure, but Mississippi law and the U. S. Supreme Court deemed otherwise. At six o’clock Berry died quietly at age 49.

His attempts to remain alive splashed for weeks over local media. His crime was kidnapping 56-year-old Mary Bounds as she was leaving her church one evening. He took her into the woods and beat her repeatedly to death—for no reason than he and she were in the same place at the same time. That was 1988.

Mrs. Bounds’ family relived that evening for 20 years, faithfully attending all of Berry’s appeals, never forgetting the horror this mother, wife, and grandmother suffered. A few nights agao, May 21, the husband and one daughter of Mrs. Bounds watched as a lethal injection ended this man’s life. Berry admitted he killed Mrs. Bounds but never expressed remorse. He said his 21 years in jail was payment enough for his crime. Jena Bounds Watson, Mary’s daughter, is quoted as saying, “…I kept thinking how more humane capital punishment is than what my mother suffered. He was just lying there and then he was asleep” (courtesy of the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, MS).

Many don’t believe in capital punishment, just incarceration of perpetrators. I haven’t been in the shoes of the families of Mary Bounds, James Goodman, Sharon Tate and the like.Do we know how deeply stress erodes the health of the families? How revisiting at appeal time floods the memory of feelings and sadness that can’t be forgotten even for a short space of time? I find it equitable that someone who has committed a horrible crime is unable to have 3 meals a day, a clean bed, television, and no labor for the rest of his life. I agree with Jena Bounds Watson that to see the criminal go to sleep is far easier to witness followed by a peace that passes understanding that finally wraps and comforts the souls of the victim’s families.

A letter from Virginia to the editor recently from the relative of a murder victim implored the governor, Haley Barbour, to halt the execution and recognize that “capital punishment is not an ethical response to his (Berry’s) crimes.” He goes on to say that “we should not live our lives trying to right wrongs, but instead we should help make a difference.”

How is allowing any vicious murderer to live until natural death with room, board and free health care financed through our taxes make a difference? These executions rid society of another evil person. We can forgive the transgressor, but allowing him to keep his life when he stole another’s is not easy for a victim’s family and friends to live with.

However, it is the cruel, inhumane act such as the unforgettable killings of three young men working for civil rights in Philadelphia, MS, oh, so many years ago (but never too long ago to forget) in which the highest punishment should be required.

In my opinion, capital punishment wielded to those whose crimes are unspeakable is justified.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Can You Hear Me?

It booms, thunders across other sounds, wraps around the ears until nothing else can be heard. My voice. A simple conversation with me and you think I'm preaching in a coliseum. R waves his hand at me, a signal to lower my voice. I do, then I see my audience straining to hear me. There’s no middle ground for me, only too high or too low.

Once my voice was small, quiet, until I discovered play acting. I can still hear the directors’ voices: “Throw your voice, Vivian, so I can hear you,” as they waved from the last row of the college theatre. And so, to continue acting I began to raise the decibels.

Then came my career in teaching, and I realized that a loud voice worked better for me than a quiet one. That was in the early years when I taught in ancient school buildings that bounced the voice against the 12 foot tall windows and absorbed into the three foot thick walls.

Former students shopping in the same store as I have come up to me with the remark: “I KNEW that was you Mrs. N, we recognized your voice!” And I was only talking to a friend in another part of the store!! My voice has dropped pitch considerably from early days. You’d declare I was a radio announcer.

Cell phone conversation is tough. I have to find a closed spot to make and take my calls. If I go outside the house, neighbors can hear me six blocks away. Well, maybe three. Inside the house I have to find a distant room, close the door, and turn music to low.

When R makes a trip to Home Depot or a department store, especially in pleasant weather, I usually remain in the car and call everyone I need to contact. Inside the vehicle is like being swathed in bubble wrap where I can chat without a hand waving before my eyes.

In my family are three adult children. Two are loud and one is quiet like his dad. When we are together you’d wish you could spray a foam that would fill our mouths and harden. We know we are loud mouths, but in our excitement of sharing conversation, we get completely carried away with the moment. I feel so accepted when we are together.

I’m looking for someone to design a modular telephone booth, light enough to move around the house and yard. Better still, something in a can I spray around my head, creating a sound barrier. What is your idea for me?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mesa Verde National Park

A former boss of mine, who must have thought I wanted his job, admonished me for taking out of the trash can copies of his business magazines. He was hard to convince that I liked reading anything of interest. So it was that I glanced through a copy of "The American Surveyor", a magazine my retired husband still gets (free) and found an interesting article about an organization I didn't know existed: CyArk.

CyArk is a high definition Heritage Network which goes about "preserving Cultural Heritage Sites through collecting, archiving and providing open access to data created by laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art technologies."

Having recently visited Mesa Verde Park, I was interested to note that CyArk was asked to be on a location shoot in this area, and just happened to pack a scanner to be used as a "prop" for the show. That prop became an important tool in scanning and measuring some of the cliff dwellings that are in danger of disappearing due to wind, rain, erosion, and temperature changes. CyArk studied the park's Square Tower House site, whre a large boulder had detached from the alcove face and damaged some of the walls of Square Tower House and one of the kivas.

According to "The American Surveyor" report by Elizabeth Lee, CyArk's founder Ben Kacyra loved the park's old dwellings and decided on the spot that his company should collect information and give a structural analysis of parts of one place, the Square Tower House. Tourists like this site which has the only square building seen among many round ones in the entire park. Alongside is a large kiva that was included in the scanning and getting equipment down to the site from a ledge above was a trial of gymnastics. Computer files of the results can aid field personnel with remote access for researchers and students.

The close-up photos of the work and the area are large and easily identified, compared to my eyes peering across a wide canyon. Anyone interested further in CyArk's work in preserving historic sites around the world will enjoy their website: www.archive.cyark.org.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Disaster Strikes Again in Mississippi

I was having a great vacation out West only to be informed that at home another rip-roaring storm of great magnitude was uprooting gigantic trees and dropping them onto houses, ripping utility poles from the ground and leaving homes without power. When I returned three days after the storm, the weather report stated that up to six tornadoes had roared through North Jackson, and the metro area, skirting my City of Madison. The angry winds pushed so many trees down that streets had to be closed for the weekend. Now all you see are piles of cut limbs, huge tree trunks uprooted in yards, and tarps over affected roofs. Some areas look scary. This area hasn't been hit like this since Katrina, so say those whose homes were damaged.

We are seeing our own area, years ago on the firing line, once again in the path of these tornadoes. This hasn't happened since we first moved into the area forty years ago. In those early days with our three kids really kids, the lot behind us was our safety net. It has a crevasse where we'd huddle when the warning came. Now we just grab our pillows, all necessities, and sit in various closets. When my elderly parents lived with us some 10 years ago, I held "tornado drills" to get them accustomed to basic moves. We used that education only once. Like little children themselves, they sat quietly for 20 minutes, only to ask the question, "Can we get out now?" I had to laugh. They were seriously sitting with pillows in their laps, their robes and slippers on, following directions. I had to take a photo of them to remind me of that one serious night.

Our state has had it easy, compared to you who have seen so much rain that flooding is occurring. The Mighty Mississip is getting to the overflow stage---any hour now. I wonder if these acts of nature are in any way showing the wrath of God for our obscene behavior here on earth? Many believe that. Me? I'm not sure.

Who wants to hear about my vacation? No one. They're too busy cleaning up debris in and outside their once-happy homes and trying to figure out how to get back to normal.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Letter from the Past

I finally began tackling the old file cabinet I purchased years ago. It is a lateral file that has to weigh a ton. The metal underneath is appalling; it's so heavy it is a perfect project for weight lifting. Among the many items I discovered hidden in the folders was a legal size envelope. Inside was a long-forgotten letter reminding me of a bad teaching experience.

In the early months of our marriage the only teaching job available was in a non-consolidated school 20 miles from the university. The students were from very poor families. Because of the small student population I agreed to be the "librarian" for several periods and teach three classes of English

I didn't think of my other responsibility until my turn for bathroom duty came along. Once weekly I (l) flushed the toilets after every two class periods and (2)cleaned and mopped the bathroom at the end of the day. With such a small group of students, I figured this was a pushover. My first day of duty revealed my low tolerance for odors. The five toilets had their tops and levers removed. I had to reach into the fresh water and pull the stopper (you know which one I mean). The students had never been encouraged to keep paper off the floor. After school I took the mob and bucket, filled it with water and soap to clean the floors, then wipe down the lavatories and toilet bowls. I learned to hold my breath long enough to rush in and out during the day.

The school day was a farce. When he felt like it, the superintendent called any group of students to his office, especially the football players, to "talk." Each of my classes had less than seven students. I brought the problem to him. How could I teach a missing student and get him to hand in his homework? He grinned and said his "talks" were more important than my class.

One day my one football player arrived late to class. I reprimanded him about his tardiness. He looked at me angrily and shouted "You can't tell me what to do, you xx??** teacher!" He turned to leave and stopped at the door long enough to pitch his text book in my direction. As he walked out of the room and down the stairs he continually slammed his fist on the walls, alerting everyone on both floors of his anger.

After school the superintendent asked me to explain my behavior towards his star player. After relating my side of the event, he began with an explanation:
"Mrs. N, you have to recognize how I run this school. I can call anyone to my office anytime of the day. As to this student, he is my star player and I won't have you being disrespectful to him. You should be glad he didn't throw you out the window! He tried that with a teacher once. John is the brother of a school board member and you have to be nice to him--or lose your job."

In the remaining week I heard warnings from the local teachers about the general behavior of this student. I was told to check my room each morning for any signs of snakes or bugs that this young man might put in the desk drawer. I feared my car engine might be tampered with, so I began riding with other teachers. The young man never returned to class. I stayed a total of two more weeks before resigning.

When I changed jobs I began to research the need for consolidation and planned to write an article in the state education magazine. I had discovered that a few superintendents still were holding on to their little fifedoms. I remembered the local teachers having told me how insubordinate they felt, embarrassment from the superintent they had to endure, how grades were changed for favorite pupils, how easily they would lose their jobs if they complained. I thought I had a good topic for discussion in print.

The letter I had saved was written by one of the teachers at this small school. She urged me not to reveal the behavior of this superintendent, as it would harm the remaining teachers and the town itself. I never finished the article, for within a few years that school was consolidated and the superintendent fired for sloppy leadership and failing students. That was proof enough I had vindication.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Masticating Memory

The Village Ladies are those in our subdivision who meet monthly for interesting programs and plan socials. Annually this group holds the egg hunt for all the kiddies in the neighborhood. After hours of "intensive" work one evening there was still a huge bag of candy remaining. I offered to carry the remainder home and purchase additional eggs to stuff. I was thinking deep within my soul that I could-- on the sly-- taste each type candy as a "reward" for my work. Today I was stuffing the last of the eggs with the assorted candies and gum, realizing how many more I could get into the larger ones. Digging down into the bag of candies I discovered a box that hadn't been opened. To my surprise it was my favorite chewing gum--Bazooka. Having given up this delicious gum eons ago, I had to have a piece to see if it still was easy to chew. It was, and I delighted in rolling it and pushing my tongue through it to see if I could still make a bubble.

Recently my dental hygienist warned me that my gum chewing days must end. When she found out that I was chewing Wintermint, a Wrigley sugar-filled gum, she tut-tutted that I should at least chew the sugarless type.

"But that stuff is like chewing sugar cane!" I moaned. I know the point of the gum companies is to sell their sugarless gum by making you exert your jaw muscles so vigorously that after 15 minutes of chewing you discover this chicle doesn't soften. So what? You just put in another piece of gum. At this rate, a pack won't last a day.

When that piece of Bazooka gum began to squirt its sugary taste, my memory bank tapped into a time bubble gum was so important in my life:

Summer camp in North Carolina during WWII. I was nearly 13 years old and getting mail had always been the highlight of any camper's morning. Parents knew how much packages meant to their camper kid. One camper, the biggest in our "tribe" opened her package one morning to discover a box of 144 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. She shrieked, drawing the attention of the rest of us.

Manna from heaven. Food fit for little princesses. We salivated through our "ahh-hhs" as this suddenly Most Popular Girl rolled around in her mind how to leave the premises without dozens of starving-for-gum campers ploughing into her to grab a piece. She held the box above her head and announced "Anyone with a quarter can get a piece!"

In those days a quarter was almost unheard of. We thought in pennies and nickels. A few rich campers immediately assured MPG that they had the coins. The rest of us sighed, left to imagine the taste of this forbidden fruit.One of the rich kids, a little New Yorker who thrilled me with tales of her living in a high rise home in the city, was kind enough to split her piece of gum with me. She was to be my friend forever. Unfortunately, I never wrote her after that summer. But I did get to chew that gum for several days, being careful not to have it in my mouth at meal time.

Gum was a rare commodity during the war. Stick gum was always wrapped in aluminum foil, which was needed for the war. Eventually when we could get stick gum, it was wrapped in paper. Bazooka didn't come in aluminum foil. It's rounded shape, the size of a spool of thread, was always cuddled in waxed paper. Somehow the chicle in bubble gum became a commodity needed for the war. I believe more foreign kids got gum than any American kid during the mid forties. GI's gave away our gum. Photographs printed in magazines showed soldiers demonstrating to these kids how to blow bubbles.

Today, many years later, I carefully opened a piece of Bazooka, whose shape had shrunk considerably, and chewed it slow--ly. Ah, the juice was just as I remembered. As the juice disappeared, the pink gum became more pliable. And...I was transported to childhood.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mandates Lifted from Madison County

Recently the Federal Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted the guidelines for full integration of the Madison County, MS, public schools. Almost forty years have passed since the federal government forced integration of a district school system divided mostly by demographics and culture. The southern portion of Madison county steadily grows upward, having added one additional new high school and several new grade school buildings in recent years. Physical improvements have been made in schools of the northern portion where there’s little to no growth.

The federal mandate was lifted by the Court after the superintendent through intervention of their lawyers ask for a review of the integration attempts made to provide every school with the necessary learning tools and transferring teachers and students to balance the white/black ratio. The mandate created havoc when new buildings were needed to accomodate a surging student population, bonds for construction couldn't advance, or changes to curriculum were put on a back burner. Lacking these advancements caused excessive crowding of schools in southern Madison county.

The struggle to integrate this county has had its successes and its failures these years. During much of that time I was a member of the high school faculty in the city of Madison and watched compliance with changes that were instituted. Transportation was a major struggle. Parents, but not the federal government, understood that under no circumstances would they have their children bussed all over the county, regardless of the benefits, to satisfy just the government. The distance meant no parental support for night meetings and student activities.

Two magnet schools were organized many years apart in different sections of the county. Besides new buildings, up-to-date equipment, sound curriculum, time and resources were spent establishing a bi-racial advisory committee, implementing procedures to recruit minority teachers-- creative ways to fulfill federal guidelines. Students used to the local shopping, movie theaters, and variety of school activities in the southern area couldn’t fathom leaving their happy high school life for a place considered “country” and isolated from two cities’ attractions(Madison and nearby Ridgeland). Demographics and culture were the culprits. Fortunately, now the facilities of one magnet school are being utilized for summer training of teachers.

Now, with mandates lifted, within five years the district will begin to move forward. The Court recognizes that this district has done its best, because the county is naturally divided in black/white population and culture. Expansion northward will occur as families look for new places to build homes and small towns get a second life.

The biggest lesson the government learned is the old adage: "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear."

(Note: information was gathered from an article in the local newspaper,The Clarion-Ledger and the author’s memory of her small involvement in the process.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Teeny Business Brings Pleasure

Mississippi has given me a license as a creator of hand crafted jewelry. I'm really a hobbiest in the field of jewelry, shared by hundreds of thousands of true artists. However, I feel I'm in the arena doing my best. I have two customers, one that is tried and true. I receive enough orders per year to justify having a license. If I look for additional wholesale customers, I'd never have the opportunity to spend the earnings advancing my learning.

But it's the sharing of my interests that I enjoy the most. I give a few lessons now and then to neighbors, friends-- but a recent visit to a retirement home gave me the boost I needed to continue working. I shared my enjoyment of Precious Metal Clay with a group of 15 older citizens who in their younger days bought their good jewelry from jewelry stores. I showed them how I make fine silver pendants and pins. They were attentive and asked questions. Four want to make something for themselves, and I'll return in March to give them one lesson.

The idea that they can play with a blob of clay, roll it out, press a rubber stamp or using their fingers, form a pattern, is what intrigues these four ladies. That's what interests me, too. Any woman can create her own jewelry in a few hours with a tad of patience.

One attendee was a gentleman whom I recognized as just wanting to be entertained. He listened quietly, but made a beeline to the front after the demonstration and wanted to share his hobby with me: writing prayers. He boasted he'd written more than 95,000 prayers, and handed me a copy of one. I've not made that number of jewelry items, so I know he's far more inspired than I. Too, he's a few years older. It was a lovely thought to share with me.

I always joke at these demonstrations that I am going to be the Granma' Moses of jewelry making. And I want those present to remember this in 20 years so they can boast they knew me when...

The next time I have to complete my income tax form for all the wholesale work I do, I won't complain, because this business is leading me in directions I enjoy.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Oo--ee, Eli Showed His Stuff

Every Mississippian who could, remained glued to his television set Sunday night to cheer for the NY Giants during the Super Bowl game. I'm not, but I watched like others to see Eli Manning and his NY Giant teammates win the game. Only father Archie and mother Olivia are Mississippians, but father and sons are seen in many advertisements that are published and broadcast in our state, reminding us that they still feel connected. The sons attended Ole' Miss at Oxford and Eli is helping establish a children's wing to be named after him at the University Medical Center in Jackson.

Who got the free tickets from Eli to attend the game? Despite each player having 15 free tickets, Eli had 70 friends, some from high school and a few from Ole Miss plus a few friends of the parents. What a cheering squad! Unknown, but suspected, were the thousands of us cheering Eli, as we did with Peyton, only a year ago.

A recent update: The house in Drew where Archie lived, and the one I passed by for nine months, is now being renovated and will be a museum with photos and memorabilia. Green Street, where I boarded, will be renamed Manning Street. Whatever else happens in Drew is anyone's guess. It's not a growing town. The Delta just isn't the same anymore...

Sunday, February 03, 2008


The summer of August, 1954, I graduated from college, packed my belongings and headed to a Delta town that seemed eons away from my home in Jackson, MS. I had been warned in school that if I wanted to teach in the city (where the best salaries were) I'd have to serve time in smaller schools. Since I interviewed with only one superintendent, I had one job offer. My salary was $150 per month.

Back in my seventh grade history class I should have learned more. I knew the outline of the state (always on our tests)and I knew we had a delta area because of the flooding of the Mississippi River, but I didn't know of any familiar towns in this area. Too far from Memphis and Jackson. So this first job location was on foreign soil for a 20 year old.

I taught English to seventh graders. With the shadow of the superintendent hovering over us five new teachers, I despaired that I couldn't teach without his presence. My supporter was the librarian, a citizen of the town, who gave me lessons on better understanding the superintendent.(Many years later I would be appreciate his guidance.) Every afternoon I'd leave the two story building and meet her downstairs at the school door, and we'd walk and talk across the playing field to her house one block away. On pleasant afternoons her little 5 year old son would come skipping to meet his mom and walk with us.

Not forgotten are that sleepy town of Drew, the lovely Mrs. Manning, whose little boy became known to everyone as Archie Who, and the wonderment of my slight brush with a future successful football player who produced two more renowned players--Peyton and Eli.