Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The ice and snow are here; Libby and Kate are getting well; Roadie is hiding

Ten days ago, Libby and Kate got into a fight of major proportions, both requiring stitches, and Libby numerous staples in her head.  It was a traumatic time for me as well as them, as I had to deal with the aftermath.  As always, though, we learn something about the temperament of our dogs, and ways to prevent future rows, though it doesn't make it any easier to get through the one at the time.  They both had to be tranquilized for clean up and repair, and spent most of the next few days sleeping it off--in different rooms.

Roadie, the baby, is the smartest dog we have.  When a scuffle breaks out--or in this case, a downright knock-down fight--Roadie heads for the nearest table or chair and promptly gets under it as far back as possible.
Fortunately after the investment of a mere $283 for vet care and $44 for comfy cones, the stitches and staples came out yesterday.  Libby still has some scabs and healing spots, mostly because with her blonde hair, you can see them easier.
Kate is pretty well healed to the point that her wounds are no longer visible except for the healing laceration on her ear.  We think we may make them wear comfy cones from now on, as it seems to keep them much more laid back.  :)  Actually, we have made the decision that there are behavioral changes necessary in regard to how many dogs in a room at the same time, who gets fed with whom, and who gets to go outside and thus be at the door waiting at the same time.  I had suggested a routine based on my having done this last year while Randy was in Texas and Kate and Maggie got into it; he did not believe it was a workable solution until two days after the Kate/Libby fight this time, Kate and Maggie got into one.  Fortunately, given Kate already had wounds, only the fur was flying instead of blood.  He implemented my plan immediately, and it has worked well so far.
In the meantime, on a cold, raining, and now sleeting Saturday, the cold front is here in full force.  I headed out to my Wal-Mart Fall-Apart, but there were so many people there stocking up (are they expecting snow in Mississippi to shut everything down for 2 weeks or what?) I just drove right back out.  I only go to Wally World when we need something no one else in town has, like today.  I decided it could wait.

I had on my Unalaska hoodie sweatshirt, which is a lot warmer than the Mississippi ones, and it was freaking cold at that.  By the time I left the grocery store, the sleet had started.  By the time I got home, all my jonquils that had just bloomed were lying face down in the mud shivering, and the ice was forming on the newly budded tree branches.  Birds and deer were eating the last of the seed and corn I put out this morning, and about to head for a warmer place to curl up and wait this out.

I think that sounds like a capital plan, so I am headed to the living room to light some candles (amazing the heat they emit in the small room with the door closed) and curl up with a warm dog and a glass of chianti.


Monday, February 23, 2009

A Taste of Soul

Welcome to the 1st Annual University of Mississippi-DeSoto Center Student Social Work Organization "Taste of Soul and Black History Symposium" presentation!  I arrived at the DeSoto Center in Southhaven at 5:30, but wished I had gotten there sooner!  The greens were gone as were the field peas!  (Now I personally would have made hot water cornbread had I been asked--a soul food my mama--though not a soul woman--was making since I can remember, on account of we were poor and did not always have milk.)

The students and DeSoto faculty had contributed soul food items and for a mere $3, you could fill your plate.  While I missed the greens and field peas--two of my favorites--I did have some several items from the selection, including neckbones, cabbage, and potatoes, which I have never had before.  I am always up for trying something new--I recall Jeanne and I trying ostrich neck stew in South Africa, for example.  Though there were a variety of desserts, when she said "sweet potato pie" that was all I needed to hear.

The students had put together displays of African American people who were instrumental in the development of social work--and this was not in regard to a required class, but on their own time and the only "payoff" was what they experienced.  It was not for a class grade.  They had posters around the room with information on various black people who have contributed to the profession, to the race, and to the world in regard to what they have given to all of us.
There were guests in the crowd, and it was really gratifying to see them range from 3 months to over 80 years.  Imagine the wealth of information and experience, combined with the promise of tomorrow that we shared in that room tonight!  There were several school age children present as well.
Dr. Jerry Watson, the newest addition to the faculty at Ole Miss was instrumental in spearheading this symposium.   Dr. Watson brings a wealth of experience as a community organizer and urban researcher to the program.  I think it especially wonderful he is at the DeSoto Center since Southhaven is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the region, and given its immediate proximity to Memphis, and Dr. Watson's experience in Chicago and then Jackson, MS, he brings a much needed element to the students' experiences.
There were 4 speakers among the students, but I was especially impressed with this woman, who talked about the lifetime achievements of Whitney M. Young, Jr.  I admire the contributions of E. Franklin Frazier, and Whitney Young, and learned new information about Lugenia Burns Hope--a woman from Georgia known as the "Southern Reformer."  But, I must confess, I hold a special fondness for the work done by Whitney Young, and wonder if he might have preceded President Obama had he lived.  He had the gift of being able to communicate, as does Mr. Obama, and in fact, Mr. Young was comfortably at home with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
Special recognition was offered to this woman, and I was delighted to meet her afterwards.  She is the mother of someone whom I admire very much.
And in conclusion, Dr. Watson drummed and sang for us: an African "New Year's Song" (which I cannot get to post, so will upload the Smilebox of the video of his drumming).  I left DeSoto feeling rejuvenated, uplifted, and once again, proud of my profession, my colleagues and future colleagues, and grateful for the courageous individuals who have gone before us and made this world a better place for all of us.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Tomahawk Chop

A number of years ago, something called the "Tomahawk Chop" was quite popular at Washington Redskins games.  One of the most salient things I recall reading was Jane Fonda--and if I recall correctly, her husband at the time was involved in ownership?--saying in response to criticisms by Native Americans of the Tomahawk Chop at the games was  something along the lines of "I did not mean it to be offensive.  However, when you tell me that it offends you and that is not my intention, then I will stop it."

I have used that in my classes over the years--it is not about "political correctness."  In fact, I come unglued sometimes at the term PC or political correctness.  It is about valuing people, valuing human beings, and how we feel, language ourselves, want to be named, and want to be respected.  It is about the dignity and respect.

So when I read the New York Post "defend" its racist (whether intentional or unintentional) cartoon depicting the author of the stimulus bill as a dead chimpanzee when the author of that bill was President Obama, then I have to ask myself why we still have not understood this concept of valuing people, and treating them with dignity and respect, and thinking about what our actions actually mean to others.  An apology saying "I did not mean to offend you" is one thing--when that is truly the case.  But the Post did not really make an apology, as in the next sentence, the editor said, "Except for some of you who just overreact to everything and don't deserve an apology."  I took that personally--I am one of those people who "over-react"--when I see a cartoon that shows the violence of shooting someone--anyone for any reason--and cavalierly passing that off, I am angry.   It is not the shooting as much as the cavalier attitude that says it does not matter that really gets to me.  Like Amadou Diallo, for example.  Or Sean Bell.  Or Billey Joe from Lucedale, Mississippi a few weeks ago.  Or the Jena 6.  Or letting black people drown in jail in New Orleans when the city flooded.  Or the Cradle to Prison Pipeline in Mississippi.  

When I see a reference that invokes the ugly racist image comparing Africans or other dark ethnic groups with apes and monkeys, I am not inclined to accept an apology.  I want it to stop--period.  When I see that Mississippi is channeling young black boys as early as 6 years old into the penal system, I don't want an apology.  I want it to stop.  When I read that a young black man is more likely to die before he is 24 than to graduate from college, I don't want excuses.  I want it to stop.  How can we not understand and get that it is deeply offensive--to all of us?  If we cannot understand that by now, then clearly, we have not been paying attention for at least our own life times, if not for long before that.

I do not know what it will take for us to have the kind of honest and thoughtful discussions to confront this, but I hope that we will somehow take the New York Post cartoon incident, the Billey Joe Lucedale, Mississippi incident, and all the other ongoing incidents that deal with every ethnic group whether Aleut, African, Belizean, Caribbean, Caucasian, ad infinitum and begin to ask ourselves "what are we so afraid of?"

Thirty years ago I participated in a workshop.  In one exercise, we had to close our eyes and imagine that we were terrified of the person sitting next to us.  We had to feel the fear and scream as if the person next to us was really someone of whom to be afraid.  The room was filled with screaming; it sounded as if we were really afraid.  It felt as if we were really afraid.

Then, the workshop leader said calmly: Now, understand that the person you are sitting next to and of whom you are afraid--is sitting next to YOU--and is afraid of you.   

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Here's a question for you:

I just finished reading the article about how USB (a major Swiss bank) has acknowledged helping wealthy US people hide enough money that it has defrauded the US government of at least $300 million in taxes.  "Oops, our control system was clearly inadequate" at the exact same moment that the executives are being indicted and acknowledging they clearly helped conceal the money.  Even now, they are advising their clients to "stash" items purchased with that money--I assume to lessen the chance the IRS garnishes it to pay back taxes?

My question:  Why is it that millions of hard working folks in the US will get outraged at poor, uneducated women who need a paltry couple of hundred bucks a month to feed the children because there are no adequate resources in the crappy neighborhoods in which they live, and not be outraged that those wealthy people will knowingly and intentionally evade their civic responsibility?  Wealthy people leave paying those taxes to those folks who are least able to do it: those hard working folks who are upset at "welfare" and think that is where their tax dollars are being "wasted."

I am all for stimulating the economy and creating jobs ala the Great Depression saving of folks.  It's clear we are in a hell of a mess--albeit one created intentionally by greedy people with no thought to the consequences.  What I hope is that finally, enough folks at the groundswell figure it out.  In the words of Si Kahn, "What's good for big business has to give way for what's good for people."  We did not get in this mess doing what is good for people, "ensuring the general welfare" of our citizenry.

I do not know what it will take to get us out of it, but I do know one thing.  We will not solve a problem at the same level of thinking as created it in the first place.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fish and Spaghetti

Roadie watches Kate with the squeaky trout that she has managed to snare from under a pile of clothes.  It is a cold and raining day here, and all dogs (after a morning nap) are in various spots in my working room--all sort of chilling while I studied an article for the upcoming Global South workshop on Thursday and Friday.  Now, enough of the whimsical and down to business: Fish and spaghetti, and the Global South.

Last Thursday I was in a meeting with my colleagues when the talk turned to culture.  Someone mentioned the tradition of black folks in the south eating fish and spaghetti on Fridays.  I had never heard that before, so they enlightened me about the presence of this cultural norm in black communities in the delta area.  It apparently merged from both Catholic traditions and black traditions, and is a mainstay Friday meal in black communities.  I was advised to stop at any convenience store deli on a Friday to check it out.  Sure enough, Friday on my way home, I stopped to pick up the area's best chicken at Ward's One-Stop, my neighborhood convenience store deli.  There in the case--noticed for the first time by me, were catfish and spaghetti.  Of course, I had to order catfish and spaghetti--no way could I pass up the opportunity to try a new cultural norm.

I commented about it on the community listserv that comes out of Greenville, Mississippi, to my friend  back in Texas.  Odis acknowledged that his mom (from Greenville) still makes fish and spaghetti.  I grew up eating fish and macaroni and cheese at the school cafeteria in the very Catholic community in which I grew up.  Those seemed "normal" to me, though the idea of fish and spaghetti was quite a stretch.  It is a reminder again of how culture influences our traditions and defines our world view.

The Global South Faculty Working Group is another opportunity to explore culture, traditions, and the intersect between both north and south hemispheres as it simultaneously affects us.  We are approaching the second special lecture and the third working group workshop this week.  Our guest lecturer is Saskia Sassen, from Columbia University and I just finished reading the article we were assigned prior to the workshop.  (My summary is on the reading list on the right of this post).  In addition, I have been doing research on global south issues as they are related to social work and my own research, to be prepared for the topic of the workshop following the lecture.  My work in South Africa and Belize (and to some extent, St. Paul and Unalaska future research) as well as Mississippi are all intersecting in this working group.  What I find is true of me now, as it has always been in my research, is that I tend to get too grand, too large, too excited, and those characteristics tend to make it harder for me to focus on exactly what I need to do.  We are looking at commonalities in each of our areas (those of us in the working group) and how we might interface and collaborate in our work.  It all is related to countries in the global southern hemisphere, though we have differing areas of focus.  As Mississippi is part of the south and shares many characteristics with the global south, we are looking at how to connect our work here with our work in other countries: sort of a gateway to the global south connection. 

As always, my ideas are big and grandiose and I get carried away with the vision.  Eventually, though, I have to start to narrow it down and operationalize it in a way that makes it connect logically, and that is where I am right now.  The first lecture was on colonization and its affect on the colonized, and how to decolonize our thinking; this lecture is on the changing construct of citizenship in a global world, and the emerging political context that creates.  How do those relate to what I am doing?  That is my task to accomplish by Friday's workshop.

I wonder if we will have fish and spaghetti for lunch?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Randy is the most unromantic guy I have ever known.  Not one for sentimental cards, gifts, flowers, etc.  Yesterday morning when I got out of the shower, the new Bruce Springsteen album was playing on my iTunes.  He took me to lunch at Nogoyo's Japanese restaurant--a lovely new place with wonderful ambience that is quite popular and was crowded even at lunch on Saturday.  Afterwards, we went shoe shopping next door for athletic shoes--woo hoo.  Okay, so that's not that romantic, except it was kind of fun.

He planned to grill steaks for dinner, but alas, there was a rib-eye run at the meat market...and a T-bone run...and sirloin run...so we ended up with tilapia and shrimp--probably much more heart healthy anyway.

And speaking of hearts, I reached to the table to pick up my wine glass and noted a black box where there had not previously been one.  What a surprise--and all of this from the most unromantic guy I have ever known--who scoffs at Valentine's day, Mother's day, and basically any day in which one is "expected" to purchase a gift for someone because it is a declared "special" day--declared special by the retailers and marketing industry, that is.

I must say, it was all a nice surprise anyway and a splendid day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Statues and Cemeteries: The Past is the Future

A slave bell on a former plantation in South Africa: the bell was rung to call the slaves to work.


In 1963, James Meredith had to be escorted to class on the University of Mississippi campus by the National Guard.  In 2002, the University celebrated "Open Doors"--a year long celebration and recognition of the changes on the campus since that time.

A fitting monument to those changes was envisioned by the university.  A selection was made.  Long before the first steps toward completion of that monument actually saw physical form, more changes were made.  The proposed monument was two doors of glass, to be situated between the Lyceum (where the National Guard were posted, bullets flew, and the sordid stand off ended finally) and the Library--the symbol of knowledge and access to learning.

Questions began to arise, and though it is not the intent of this post to discuss all of those, I will say that I had an unsettling moment when the first design was announced due to its uncanny resemblance to the picture at the top of the page.  The originally proposed monument was to be pillars resembling those in the picture of the slave bell, with glass doors between the pillars and a bell at the top.  For many reasons, that plan was scrapped and the monument that now stands on the campus was unveiled a couple of years ago--in the blazing hot sun of a Mississippi spring.

Every time I walked across campus, I intended (someday) to spend some time there, trying to imagine 1963.  Today, I took the time to do so.  My first thought as I stood behind the statue of James Meredith was wondering what he was thinking as he walked through those doors for the first time, surrounded by National Guardsmen, and a crowd of jeering, booing, rock-throwing students and others.

Today, I found the answer.  Just inside the symbolic walls of the monument, are his words.
As I walked through and turned back toward his statue, I watched students come and go, passing by me, by the statue and without a glance at it or me.  I wondered what they were thinking as well.  Perhaps it is significant that I finally made the time to go over there today.  We were talking in a meeting just before about how many people literally know nothing of the history of black people.  There is opportunity right in front of us, and sometimes we just do not take the time to walk through the door--to learn something we did not know before.
Every day on my way home, I drive by this little cemetery on the hill.  The first few times, I just noticed there were stairs leading up the hill, but nothing was at the top.  One day, I noted that there was a cemetery up there, and vowed I would some day stop and look at it.

I even made up in my head that it was a black cemetery--possibly because much of this neighborhood is black, but I don't really recollect why I decided such a thing.  I was surprised to find the sign that indicated it was no such thing.
I have always been fascinated by cemeteries and head stones since I was a small girl and my grandmother took me to the cemetery with her as she took care of family gravesites.
Many is the time I stopped at some country grave yard and looked at head stones, noting what items are placed on graves as a remembrance.  One of the most striking ones to me was at the Perini cemetery near Buffalo Gap, Texas.  A small child's grave held toys that had been there for many many years.  Each time I would see it, I would always wonder about the mother and father who lost the child who played with those toys.
So many times, the headstone read only infant, with date of birth and death the same date.
Today I noted the first jonquils to bloom in the neighborhood are in this cemetery.  Who sits on this bench and remembers the people buried here?  The disarray of the grave site suggests possible no one any more.  But just for a short while, a visitor walked among them wondering about their lives and how they came to be buried on this hill.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Uncle Sam and other little-known secrets

Beautiful day for birds and beasts alike yesterday and today: 70.


The Statue of Liberty is actually located on Winchester Street, Memphis, Tennessee.



Uncle Sam also lives in Memphis, and he is Black.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Simple Rules from Turkey Neck Man

With apologies in advance to Gigi, but I remind you of not long ago when you asked, "Can't you just post something silly?" in response to my Ultimate Reality Show:  Simple rules for living, from the turkey neck man.

When you are wounded, find something to lean on and keep going.
Work hard; climb mountains: you can see more from the top.
Take time to nourish your body.
Don't overindulge; consequences can be unpleasant.

Take time to sing along the way.
Remember good friends, and those who have passed before you.
Change happens; keep the faith.

Friday, February 6, 2009

On any Friday in rural Mississippi

Today was Friday, and not too soon for me.  I was having lunch in the cafeteria with my friend and colleague Jill.  Just as we sat down, another friend and colleague's husband came over to say hello.  He has lost his dad this week.  We talked briefly about how he was doing, and I sensed he was still too upset to talk about it and we changed the subject.  Not long after he left, one of our other colleagues came in and joined us, to be also joined by his wife and our colleague shortly after.  What's the point?

I was thinking how easily we become "family" with folks we see on a regular basis: how their troubles become our troubles; their joys our joys.  I tell people about Kim's blog and how to find it, as we all miss her, yet are wanting to see what new adventures she has been up to.  I find myself always saying, "Did you read Kim's blog last night?"  Debra says, "No, but I TALKED to her last night."  Jim is coming back to us next year after a stint in the dean's office as associate dean.  I have missed him and am glad he will join us again as faculty.  I am starting two new research projects, both with colleagues, and looking forward to the camaraderie that such work engenders.  Life is good even when it is hard.

I finally finished up enough work to head out of the office at 4--needing to fill my car's gas tank, drop cleaning off, and restock the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator.  (My husband and son apparently do not know where the grocery store is located. :)  Yet again today, I find it interesting what living in a small town brings.  Yesterday I went to the Taylor post office to pay postage due on a package.  They don't even leave a slip, just so note on the mailer.  I went in and told the post mistress I owed her postage due and she asked how much; I paid it and she said, "I told him to leave it; she'll pay it."  Today, when I said my last name at the cleaners, she wrote "Randy" without asking.  I went in to the Star Package and Fred and I chatted about things as he was checking me out.  While sometimes I miss the adventures of living in a bigger city, I must admit that rural Mississippi life has its advantages.   As a university town, we also get a few of those big city perks without the hassle.  Like, Colin Powell coming to campus to speak next week, even if all the tickets were gone by the time they opened it to faculty and we still have to watch him on TV. :)

And finally, a break on the house.  We actually got a check this time: the roof that was damaged by wind and then rain is going to be replaced--minus our deductible of course.  But I will take spending a thousand of my money over spending 4,000 of my money these days.  Now, the only thing is to find someone here who will DO roofing without building the house underneath it first. :)


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Can Spring be far behind? Can the deer be far behind?

Post script to earlier post: I looked out the window a few moments ago to see the deer munching on the fallen birdseed below the feeders.  It is a common site here as they trot over from the woods next to my house.  
I looked out the window by my desk this morning to note the little birds are here.  I always have some birds year round at the feeder, but these little guys don't usually show up until spring.
There are numerous cardinals in the area, or as we used to call them back in the country in Texas, "Red birds."  If you saw a red bird, you got to make a wish.
My other feeder that holds food like a chute got a little chip out of the corner of the plastic and now when I fill it, the seed falls out on the ground.  I looked out yesterday to see a flock of doves under the feeder, having a great time with their new found bounty.

Before long, though, the blue birds will be here, and they are my favorite.  I had never seen a live blue bird until I moved to Mississippi.  I had never seen a dogwood tree until I moved to Mississippi.  Now, I have them both in my own yard.  Life is good, and spring is coming.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Out Building Fences

Little Houdini dog, Roadie, broke through the fence last Sunday.  One section near the patio was of lattice work rather than pickets.  We did a temporary mend--as it was freezing and raining--with puppy kennel wire.  He got through that the same day, but a little more work and we thought we had it.  Nope, next day he just had a new hole to the side of the kennel wire.  The rest of the week was a daily game of Roadie finding a new way to escape and the other dogs telling on him for being in the front yard.  Of course, each escape was met with our pretty much futile efforts to patch the spot until the weekend.  We tried to limit him by leaving him out only long enough to do his business, but he is a quick little thing, and ever the climber since he was a wee pup and figured out how to climb out of his puppy kennel.

I only suffered two minor injuries in the process.  We were carrying the old section of fence to the wood pile and Randy walked right into me and punctured my ankle with a huge nail sticking out of the bottom of the fence.  I said I hoped the massive dose of antibiotics I am taking would kill any thing that might be generated by that nail.  I had a tetanus shot before my last trip to Africa, so I hopefully am good to go.

We were finalizing the last post and he needed me to brace the post while he nailed a 2x4 into it.  Yep, hit me right in the knee with the hammer.  I told him it was going to get difficult to explain all these injuries in ER at the rate he was going.  Even though it was 55 and cool, he was dripping wet with sweat.  He said, "It will be even harder when I pass out in a minute, you kick me to get even, and I am in ER with you trying to explain two broken ribs."  I allowed as how I would never kick him while he was unconscious--or at all, for that matter.  

Randy decided to take the fence back a bit from the original place so that we can either add a storage shed there, or he can level it for a place to park his motorcycle.  It is on the inclined pavement from what used to be the entry into the carport before the carport was turned into a screened porch.  Randy did note that living on a hill is wonderful--until you have to build something on it.