Walnut Room this way

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Living Blues Center

 I was at the Living Blues Center yesterday to teach my final graduate class of the summer.  Check out these cool posters!
One of my favorites, Bobby Blue Bland was one of the acts on this cruise.
And Muddy Waters--another favorite.  I have one of his early CDs, and Randy used to make fun of me when I was listening to it.  It was in my pre-Mississippi days, and he does have a very strong Mississippi Delta accent that makes some parts hard to make out.
It seems that just about every town along the blues highway has some kind of blues festival, juke joint festival, or some version of celebrating the music that emerged from this part of the world.  You could make a career out of following the festivals...oh, yeah, some people do.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bathroom Remodel: Take 2 Years+ and still not finished

 It never fails.  Let me have a weekend when I have no time whatsoever to spare, and Rand decides to finish the bathroom remodel that has been in the works for over two years.  I needed to be grading papers and instead, I was ripping up ceramic tile, pulling up flooring, and trying to get it all back again for installing a new toilette.  (I prefer the French term--twah lay--as it sounds so much nicer than toy let.)
So, after 3 additional trips to Home Depot, and all day long on hands and knees, all we have to show for it is the toilette is installed, the tile is under the toilette, all the flooring has been replaced, and now I'm down to finishing tiling the floor and all that is left are the walls, baseboards, and trim.  Given our record so far...maybe by next summer?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Felix's kittens: The story continues

 This is Caledonia, the most reserved of the kittens.  She reminds me of her grandmere and auntie.  She is stand-offish, but has finally succumbed to purring while petted.  She will play in the kennel with her litter mates, but not with humans.

 Onyx is the most intelligent and curious of the three.  He is not afraid of Kate and Roadie, and puts his nose right to the kennel wire to sniff noses with them.  He is always sitting on the ledge, as close to his humans as he can get.  He is playful, and not only purrs when we pick him up, he loves to play with a plastic jingle ball or the mouse toy.

 Snowcat is the most loving and affectionate of the three.  She loves J and will sleep on his lap while he is on the computer.  She is contented to be held and petted any time.
She is also a rambunctious player, with siblings or her humans.  She is getting a little more adventuresome, and thought seriously about jumping down from the bed during the photo shoot.  I'm pretty certain at this point that J intends to keep Snowcat (though he says he is changing her name as it sounds like a snowmobile), but we shall see.  The others will be adopted out as soon as we can find homes for them.  The photoshoot is for the pet store display.

We have the other 5 currently living on the front porch, and once they get weaned from Mamacat, off they go to new homes as well.  Ten cats is just not gonna happen around here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

First Impressions: City of Justice, Shelby, MIssissippi

In my last post, I promised a follow up on Shelby, and my first impressions.  First Impressions is a "program designed to capture the thoughts and feelings of visitors as they observe for the first time the characteristics of a community" (Mississippi State Community Action Team, report from the site visit of Shelby, conducted October 1, 2009).  I was searching the Internet for any information on why the city's motto was "City of Justice" and ran across this report.  I will note that they use a team--although I do not know how many people comprise the team--"with diverse backgrounds" and I am only one individual, with perhaps the non-typical background of a first-time visitor to Shelby.  None the less, I don't see myself that far out of the mainstream.  After all, people would visit Shelby most likely due to its location along the Blues Highway, and its historical significance.  There's just not that much else there to draw tourists that I could observe.

The first section of the report is the "Five Minute" impression, literally taking a five-minute drive through the community without stopping.  Their impression:
The city slogan, "City of Justice" is not actually a very welcoming, positive slogan.  We would encourage a new vision and slogan indicative of what Shelby wants to become and be known for even 30 years from now.

My first impression:
Wow!  Did you see that sign?  Why are they the city of justice?  I have to turn around and go back and take a picture of that!  I wonder who the Shelby Foundation of Black Men are?  I'll have to do some research to see what I can find out about this.  I'm so glad I decided to take this detour through town and see what is here.
Of course, I happen to have a passion for peace, justice, and equality.  I was co-founder and co-director, along with my good friend Jane/Gigi, of the Abilene Peace and Justice Center.  I have spent most of my professional career in the arena of peace, justice, and equality, and remain deeply connected to those areas now.

That being said, I just didn't "get it" about why the sign was seen as not welcoming and positive.  To whom would it not be welcoming?  Why would anyone feel unwelcomed in knowing that a city saw itself as being a place of justice, where people received fair and equal treatment?  Was it the Shelby Foundation of Black Men section that the team thought not positive?  The city is majority African American at this time, but that is not all that unusual in the Delta.  Was that indicative that tourists and first-time visitors might focus on the racial aspect, and even see the sign as some type of veiled threat?

 Their impression:
It looks a little dangerous to own a business in downtown Shelby, especially a liquor store...if crime is not as bad as it looks, then, take the bars down.  If it is, do something about the crime.
I probably have to agree with them here.  Reminded me of my first stop in a liquor store in Pearl, Mississippi about 10 years ago.  I mean, who wants to go buy something where the cashier and the merchandise is behind bars?  This is a tough issue, though.  You can drive through any community, anywhere these days, and see bars that protect businesses and homes.  Others simply retreat behind gated communities.  This issue is about a lot of things, including economic development.
This is not the liquor store; it is a vacant building, and those bars are probably to protect it from vandalism.  I noticed the bars less, however, than the sign promising fashions from Los Angeles and New York, right here in Shelby.  It reminded me of a store in Clarksdale.  The Clarksdale store has bars as well--like many stores in many communities, but I tend to see the building, the architecture, the sign, and not focus on the bars.

Their impression:
Another observation about the downtown area was the group of grown men hanging out under a shade tree at the corner of Beale Street and Third Avenue. We were told that these men are there every day and the group grows in number throughout the day. We also were told that they really have not caused any problems and are not a threat. In a way, this group acts as a watchdog for the downtown. Since they are present every day, they easily notice something (or someone) out of place. However, this group of men is very intimidating for visitors, especially women. Visitors do not know that the men are there every day and do not cause problems, especially since the men gather on a prominent corner of downtown. This also may not be a great example for the local children of Shelby. We also were told that some residents are not comfortable with the men loitering downtown.
My impression:
I saw the group of men as well.  I drove into town and stopped to take some pictures downtown.  I observed them sitting in the prominent corner, under a shade tree.  It reminded me of when I was a child and the group of men who sat in the shade outside the domino hall in Elbert...the men who sat outside the feed store in Newcastle.

I walked down the street both directions past the men, and I did not feel intimidated or threatened in any way.  I'm uncomfortable with the word "loitering."  Loiter means "stand or wait around idly without apparent purpose; hangs around and appears to be deliberately wasting time; a verb that connotes improper or sinister motives."  So, the men are not a threat, and don't cause problems, but they are idle without apparent purpose, deliberately wasting time with improper or sinister motives?   I'm disturbed by the terms "grown men" and "hanging out" and the message this implies.

On a subsequent page, the report goes on to say:
The park area on the old railroad bed is attractive, and we understand from talking with folks that it is used by community residents. There is a wonderful shade tree in the park that is really nice. This is a terrific spot and links well to the depot. 
 So, let me see if I understand this:  Residents could sit under the wonderful shade tree in the park, but not on a corner lot?  Would they be seen as loitering if they were in the park as opposed to on a vacant lot?  Which group of city residents could use the park and shade tree and not be seen as loitering?

The final question in the report asks: What will you remember most about this community six months from now (positive or negative)?  Their impression:
Probably, one of the most memorable things from a visitor's standpoint is the crowd of folks visiting under the shade tree day in and day out...
It's gone from a group to a crowd?  To me, a crowd is the amount of folks at a football game or a concert or festival.  I observed what appeared to be 10 or so folks, but I wasn't counting them.  I'd have to say that I barely gave them a passing glance.  It was like "I see some people sitting under the shade tree talking" and then I was right on down the street taking my pictures.  I've spent more time thinking about and remembering that group of men since I read the report than I did after immediately seeing them.

Here's my conclusion from my first impression: The City of Justice would do better to get this report off the Internet and be less concerned about their sign and the men under the tree.  (Maybe they are, since the report was done in 2009 and two years later the sign and the men are both still there).  If I were thinking about visiting Shelby, and read this report, I'd think twice about it.  The report is a much worse first impression than actually visiting the town.  I plan to contact the mayor and share my first impression of the town ("what a cool little city") and my negative reaction to the report ("were they in the same place I was?").

Every single person I saw, walked past, or met while driving smiled, waved, or nodded to some way acknowledge my presence and that I was welcome.  I am now intrigued to visit again, and find out more about this little city, based on my first impression.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

City of Justice: Shelby, Mississippi

 Shelby is located on old highway 61, just a stone's throw from the 4-lane 61 that runs through the Delta and up to Memphis.  I left Mound Bayou yesterday and when I noted that Shelby was a mere 3 miles up the road, set off on a new adventure, having no idea what there was in Shelby, Mississippi.  When I drove by the welcome sign, I was intrigued to the point of locating a place to turn around and go back to the sign.
 One of the first things you pass as motor toward downtown is this little store.  It is a clone to the one I grew up with in Elbert, Texas.  Its original pumps were the ones operated by gravity, and the gasoline was stored in glass containers that sat at the top of a tall, round pump.
 The railroad tracks ran through the middle of the town, as they did in many small towns.  Shelby has renovated its depot, and it now sees use as the Public Library.


Shelby, like much of the Delta, was home to many of the musicians that came from this part of Mississippi.  There is still at least one blues club in the town.

Tomorrow, I'm going to take on a commentary by the group "First Impressions" and I'll be posting the pictures of other significant structures in the community.  Yesterday was my first impression as well, and I note that my first impression differs markedly from that of the public relations group who did the recent study for Shelby.  Then I think I might do my first poll ever and see what you think.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The back porch on a hot night

Yeah, yeah, I know.  It hasn't looked like this on my porch for 2 years now.  I was sitting out there a few minutes ago, mentally preparing for the trip to Mound Bayou in the morning.  I am surrounded by the Amazon.com boxes that don't seem to make their way past the porch to the trash, the no-longer-working electric heaters from J's room, and the endless stack of Roadie-chewed-on quilts or throws that I think "I will repair and be able to use again" and spider webs in so many places that I am afraid to start cleaning up the porch again.

I was recalling when I first moved to Mississippi and I would listen to ZZTop on my drive in to work every day.  "I'm shufflin' through the Texas sand, but my head's in Mississippi."  At the time then, and often now, it is more like I am sweatin' through the Mississippi heat and humidity, but my head's in Texas.

It has been (as Super Chikan says) "scorchin' hot in the summer" the last few days.  I sat outside last night after sundown, fanning with my Tula Opry fan, and wondering why I was out there.  I tend to imagine earlier experiences: Grandma's house in the summer with no air conditioning, and summer nights so still nothing moved, not even a leaf; sleeping out on the front porch at Mama's with the sound of crickets, night-calling birds, "pole-cats" and mosquitoes buzzing in my ears.

I think my dad is probably sitting outside on his deck, in the hot hot Texas summer, drinking a cup of coffee, ignoring the mosquitoes.  Dad does not like air conditioning, Mississippi, or being inside.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Summertime in Mississippi

It's been sweltering here the past few days, and our aging air conditioner hasn't kept up...just like it hasn't the past two summers.  Just like clockwork the last two years, on the hottest Sunday or in the middle of the night, the A/C goes out when there is nothing one can do about it except wait for the next day.  We have replaced the fan motor each summer, and this summer, had planned to replace the entire unit...just as soon as I got my next paycheck for my summer teaching.

I awoke yesterday morning to the sound of air brakes just outside my window--or at least, I hoped that was what it was.  Could I be so fortunate as to have a truck down on the highway that was emitting that loud and freaky sound?  It almost sounded like a pipeline leaking great bursts of air.  Libby was out in her kennel raising Cain.

It was our beloved fan on the A/C for the third summer in a row.  Somehow, it was vibrating and the fan was hitting against something.  Rando and J went out to determine if they could address the problem, given that it was not only Sunday, but a holiday weekend Sunday and we figured an A/C repairman would be hard to come by, or very expensive.

After a brief investigation, Rand went to Home Depot and purchased two window units and a tube of JB Weld--which has to cure at least 4 hours.  J went to work on the fan whilst Rand began the window installation.  My job?  I drew the straw for "least mechanical skill required" and got to cut down the tree outside my bedroom window, in order to be able to place a window unit in said window.

Now cutting down a tree is hard work any time of the year, and frankly, in 90+ temps in Mississippi, it took me a while.  I had to take frequent breaks to go drink water, cool off, and wipe the sweat out of my eyes, since the headband I was wearing only halted what was running down my head into the band, and had no effect on the sweat pouring into my eyes from below the band.  I had to use the loppers to cut off all the smaller branches to even be able to access the trunk of the tree.  What person plants a tree right next to your house and a window anyway?

I might add that this is the same tree from which J and I lopped branches and cut off limbs earlier in the year, to get them away from the windows and the vent into the attic and off of the eaves of the house.  Did I mention that it is a fast growing tree?  Everything we had previously lopped and sawed had already re-grown.

The next step--and the temperature had only increased by then--was to remove the storm windows and clean windows inside and out, and then replace the storm windows.  I thought seriously of turning the hose on myself several times.  For those of you who enjoy washing your own windows, I will make a plug for the Windex window washing tool.  I had bought it some time ago, planning to clean all the storm windows, and just never gotten around to it.  It has a pad that is water activated, and after rinsing, dries streak-free without having to wipe the glass.  I doubted if it would really be streak-free, but I can attest that the "sheeting action" worked as advertised, which is something of a surprise in itself these days.

By the time I finished that, two things had occurred.  It was now hotter inside the house than outside, and J had finished the repair of the fan, replaced it, and had the A/C working again.  As we proceeded to install the second window unit, he asked why, since he was the hero and had solved the problem.  Rand replied, "Backup plan for next time."  Instead, we closed off the vents into the bedrooms and left the window units running, with the hope that the A/C might be able to keep the living room and kitchen sufficiently cool with less area to cover.  So far, that seems to be the case.  The plan is still for new air conditioning system after the paycheck...unless it takes all of it for the electric bill.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

LA Architecture during the Depression

I posted several months ago about the LA movie set in South Africa in 2004.  The setting was supposed to depict Los Angeles in the 1930s.  I became curious as to how "realistic" the set was compared to actual downtown LA during that time.  You be the judge.
As in the movie set, a streetcar did run down the center of the business district.





Note: LA photos are selected from public domain.