Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I love a small-town Christmas! It seems every small Southern town has a Christmas parade, more concerts and suppers than you can count, and countless living nativities to be visited.

We participated in some local traditions for the first time this year. One of them was the Festival of Lights at the community college just down the road. Each year, the entire campus is covered in tiny white twinkling lights. Music plays, and student organizations sell hot food and drink to warm visitors who are enjoying the evening's offerings. Festivities open with the Childrens' Parade, led by the drum corps of the college marching band. Tricycles, bicycles, wagons, scooters and Big Wheels follow, pedaled and pushed by little ones or (in the case of wagons) pulled by parents. All the kids' vehicles are decorated to the hilt. An antique fire engine from the Perkinston Volunteer Fire Department brings up the rear, drive by Santa and Mrs. Claus, who set up residence and talk to local children after the parade. There is a living Nativity. There are horse and carriage rides, train rides, choral concerts in the chapel, and an orchestral concert under the four ancient live oak trees on the quad.

I didn't tell my daughter where we were going; I just told her I had a surprise for her and bundled her up warmly before heading out into the cold night. Her eyes lit up when she saw all the lights twinkling, and the next three hours were pure magic for her. She cheered every single trike and scooter along the parade route. When Santa got off the fire engine and asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she smiled and replied, "A hug." He promptly gave her one! We rode in an open horse-drawn carriage, and she felt like Cinderella going to the ball. She gave a gracious royal wave to everyone we passed, too!

She couldn't understand why the figures in the living Nativity wouldn't talk back to her. "I have a lot of questions for them, Mommy!", she said. "And besides, I wanted to give Baby Jesus a kiss. It's His birthday, you know." We walked back up the hill, making frosty clouds with our breath and giggling in delight. Our noses were cold, but our hearts were warmed by the magic of Christmas. She danced under the oak trees that were aglow with lights, her face turned upward in rapture. Finally she stopped twirling, looked at me and said "Carry me home please", so I lifted her up into my arms. Her weary head nestled into my shoulder and I walked slowly and carefully to the truck, carrying a most precious gift: the faith, trust, and love of a child.

The next three weeks were a whirlwind of clinical rounds and exams, culminating in finals and leaving me utterly exhausted. After the last exam, I got to pick up my husband's three children at the airport and bring them home to his waiting arms. The children "oohed" and "aahed" at the Christmas lights Daddy had put up twinkling on the house; my heart melted when I saw the tears glistening in his eyes as he embraced all three, saying, "This is the only gift I needed".

The next day we began our Christmas baking, and delicious smells from the kitchen wafted down the road outside! Cookies, cakes, candied pecans...plenty to share with friends and to enjoy with hot cocoa in the evenings. My husband's parents were able to join us for a weekend and enjoy the preparations and the little ones.

Our poor littlest one came down with tonsilitis and was sick through Christmas, but still able to enjoy it in the midst of the ups and downs.

Perhaps the greatest gift for me was five consecutive days off for my husband, who works so hard to provide for us all.

Now, he's back to work, and his children will be going back to their mother's in two more days. I'll be starting a new semester of nursing school, twice as busy as the last one. The years seem to be spinning by faster than we'd like them to.

Yet as we prepare to welcome a New Year, there is so much for which to be thankful!!

--Our healthy children who are all growing and thriving and learning
--A secure job in insecure times
--A warm home that is our own
--Plenty of food to eat, and enough to share with those in need
--Unconditional love which fills our four walls and binds us together
--My body healing from years of health problems, and enabling me to continue to pursue my degree
--A surprise late Christmas gift of a full scholarship for the remainder of my degree!!

...and so much more.

May you all be blessed with health, peace, and faith in 2009. May you all have the compassion to reach out and help your fellow man, even if all you have to give is a smile.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


On the drive home from preschool, my 3 year old daughter handed my husband her latest art project: "Look, Dad, it's a cornucopia!" The brown construction paper horn was adorned with several kinds of fruits and vegetables she had carefully colored and glued onto it. Daddy had just started telling her how nice it was, but she could contain herself no more and excitedly burst forth: "Dad! A cornucopia is a horn-shaped basket that the Indians weaved and they used it to carry lots and lots of vegetables and fruits." She took a breath and continued in a more knowing tone. "The Indians didn't have those big old Wal Mart bags to carry their groceries in , Daddy." My poor husband nearly drove off the road. Tears of mirth ran down our faces and we both shook with silent laughter. After a few minutes we had recovered enough to reassure her that she was absolutely correct.

The next day she and I were hanging her cornucopia up on the kitchen door. "Mommy," she said wistfully, "I wish everybody had cornucopia baskets to carry their groceries. I don't like Wal Mart bags." I agreed wholeheartedly, and my thoughts drifted to sustainability. Many times a day, everything within me yearns to go back to a simpler time and way of life. I'm sure the Indians had a basket more practically-shaped than a cornucopia for carrying food from the fields to storage, but they first had to weave that basket. It would have been a masterful piece of functional art that endured for years. The convenience of that basket would have been appreciated all the more by its user for the labor and creativity that went into its making.

To me, living simply and frugally does not equal drab misery. It is an opportunity to express my creativity in all aspects of life--an exercise resulting in beautiful, unique objects that grant many years of aesthetic pleasure and personal satisfaction in the course of service. This thought makes me smile almost as widely as my daughter's innocent humor.

Not three days ago I was feeling overwhelmed and pressured by the demands of the world. After having a good cry and venting some frustration, I still didn't feel entirely better. After this conversation with my daughter, however, all seems to have fallen back into place for me. Just because my home and my life are assaulted by a barrage of demands doesn't necessarily mean that those demands are relevant, or that they have a place in my realm. I can simply and painlessly say "no" to so many of them, freeing myself to be mindfully, creatively, joyfully present in the here and now to meet those that are appropriate and relevant.

And a little child shall lead them...

Stress has been replaced with gratitude, and there is much for which I am thankful. With every silent "thank you" I breathe toward the heavens, life glows brighter and richer and more precious.

"Every time we say "thank you", we experience

nothing less than heaven on earth"

~Sarah ban Breathnach

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sweet Potato Pie

The closest most folks Up North and Out West get to a sweet potato is candied yams at Thanksgiving, and that's a shame. The yam is actually no relation. It is also harder, drier, and woodier-tasting, so it's always served up slathered in butter, brown sugar and marshmallows. Yuck.

The sweet potato is actually a dietary hero in disguise, among the most nutritious vegetables you could eat. It is low in sodium, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol. It is also an awesome source of dietary fiber. One cup of sweet potato that was baked in its skin is full of Vitamin B6 and Potassium, has almost twice the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, 65 percent of the recommended amount of Vitamin C, and half the daily requirement of Manganese. It is a rich source of B Vitamins, which help the body to combat stress. In particular, it is a good source of Folic Acid, which is important not only for infant development in utero but for many critical processes in the body. It is a good source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids, contains all nine of the essential amino acids, and is powerfully anti-inflammatory. Who knew?

The sweet potato has a low glycemic index. Although it contains natural sugars, they digest slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar so you feel satisfied longer. When you feel full, you eat less and eat less often. What could be healthier than that? Sweet potatoes grown in the South taste many times sweeter than their Northern counterparts. It's no wonder they abound by the truckload around here.

Sweet potato pie is as quintessentially Deep South as grits, turnip greens, and sweet tea. Most recipes are loaded with butter, sugar and Karo syrup and result in a custard consistency. Tasty, but not healthy.

In my quest to eat locally grown and produced food year-round, I recently found myself with a large bag of sweet potatoes acquired for a bargain, so I set about creating a healthier version of sweet 'tater pie that lets its natural sweetness truly shine. This pie is more of a dinner veggie than a dessert--which is probably sacreligious in country cookin', bless my little heart. I also drink unsweet tea, so I guess I'll never be truly Southern, but at least I do my grits up proper and slow-cook 'em!

Rosie's Sweet 'Tater Pie
(makes two 9" pies)


1 recipe of your favorite pie crust yielding two 9" crusts OR 2 ready made refrigerated pie crusts

4 medium OR 3 large sweet potatoes

1 15 oz can of Eagle fat-free condensed milk
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup organic turbinado sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon


-Wash and prick skins of sweet potatoes and bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 75 - 90 minutes. They should be thoroughly soft and the juices bubbling through the holes you pricked in the skins should be somewhat caramelized. Allow them to cool to room temperature, peel, and scrape the orange flesh into a bowl. Mash with a fork until they are the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes.

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Place pie crusts into the bottom of two 9" deep dish pie pans, and crimp the edges however you like.

-Put on some music, preferably Alabama's "Song of the South". It doesn't help the pie turn out better, but it's fun to sing along.

- To the mashed sweet potatoes add the beaten eggs and one third of the condensed milk. Blend on low speed with a hand mixer. Add the sugar, and blend. Continue adding the condensed milk a little at a time, beating on low. Add spices and continue beating. Increase speed and whip the mixture until it is thoroughly blended and there are no lumps.

- Divide the sweet potato mixture evenly into both pie pans and bake uncovered for 30 minutes. When a sharp knife or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, the pies are done.

- Allow pies to cool and continue setting for 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

- Keeps well in the refrigerator and may also be served cold.

Enjoy, y'all!

How do seasons change here? Let me count the ways...

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I love endless banks of gorgeous colored leaves; they seem to be celebrating the past year's achievements before letting go to make room for new growth. I love the crisp, cool mornings and evenings. I love the sound my feet make shuffling through carpets of dried leaves, and the musty smell that rises every time I take a step. I love the hint of smoke that rises on the air...a spicy middle note of the ambrosia to my senses that is autumn.

I do miss Northern autumns. In South Mississippi's warm, Gulf Coast climate the seasons are not so clearly delineated. Folks around here are wont to describe spring or fall as "raggedy". Autumn is not the glorious display of color that it is in other parts of the country. Although puncutated by an occasional flaming orange maple or brilliant red crepe myrtle, the piney woods stay green. How then, you might ask, do we mark the season without the changing of the colors?

You know it's fall when...

10. You actually don't run the A/C for a whole week.
9. An occasional punch of fall color pops out and startles you on a drive through the piney woods.
8. The love bugs are finally GONE!
7. Pine straw gets stuck in your flip flops when you walk.
6. There are only 2 vehicles in line at the ice machine.
5. Winter clothes appear in the store: t-shirts and shorts in darker colors.
4. The morning dew doesn't burn off the grass until at least 7 am.
3. Turnips and sweet 'taters replace watermelons in the back of pickup trucks on the side of the road.
2. You get pelted with acorns from a live oak while soaking up the sunshine.
1. It's so frigid outside in the morning that you really have to bundle up on your way into work, so you dig a sweatshirt out of winter storage.

*Stay tuned for "Signs of Winter in the Deep South: Are the Fire Ants Hibernating YET??"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

County Fair

The late summer months are County Fair time in the rural South. Ours, the Stone County Fair, was a week-long affair in mid-September.

Stone county is sparsely populated (at last count, around 16,700) and very agricultural. Although our primary crop is telephone poles, we also have a lot of cattle ranches, goat farms, and a few sheep and hogs. The fair is such a big deal that public schools give the kids a day off on Friday of fair week, and everybody goes to the fair.

Unfortunately, mommies who are in college don't get Fair Day off, so my husband and I had to wait until Saturday to take our three year old daughter. She had never been to a fair, and it had been years since either my husband or I had gone.

Sofia loved the animal barns and wanted to pet every single goat, pig, sheep and cow, including the large bulls. We had to explain to her that not all of them were amenable to being petted! We all melted with tender smiles at a calf so young it still had a bit of dried-up umbilical cord on its belly.

En route to the midway we walked through the show ring and were only slightly surprised that our extrovert daughter seemed to know half of Stone County: "Hey, y'all! Oooh, look, there's Andie & Emily!! I love your boots, Emily! Oh, there's Bralee! Hey!"

She got her first carousel ride with Daddy, which was precious to watch...

And the rest was enjoyed with increasingly large grins, in spite of the love bugs!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Process of Elimination

In our nursing curriculum this week, we've been focused on disorders of elimination and nursing care to restore proper other words, what happens when you can't go, why that is bad, and how to fix it.

Most people shrink from discussing Number One and Number Two. Those things take place behind closed bathroom doors. They are smelly. They contain bacteria that are the byproducts of normal function, but which can be contaminating and cause illness.

Yet, they are natural functions. Our bodies miraculously take in delicious morsels of God's creation--a luscious bite of fruit dripping with juices; a crunchy mouthful of vegetables bursting with flavor; warm bread with its springy texture; fragrant roasted or baked meat. Through an amazing mechanical and chemical process that takes place over several hours, those ingested substances are transformed into molecular-level fuel for every one of the billions of minute cells that compose our physical form.

That fuel allows us to continue to exist. Without it, we would die. It also allows us to form new cells in order to heal, repair and regenerate our temporal form. It enables the firing of neurons to carry messages around our body that interpret the world through our five senses or enable us to move fingers and toes. That neural net also keeps atoms and molecules whirling and working together in an amazing symphony, resulting in a body that is capable of housing an immortal soul and interacting wondrously with it.

No matter how much of that fuel is used by our bodies to function, there are unusable portions at the end of the process. They have been much transformed, into something unrecognizable and base. In its initial form it was of great benefit to us; in its current form it is no longer of use. All the usefulness, all the benefit, all the good has been extracted. This end product is called waste, and it was never meant to be retained. It has to go. If we hold on to it, we will sicken, experience unspeakable pain, and die.

The body's processing of food for fuel results in tangible wastes; yet, there is another metabolic system at work: a spiritual one. We take in the experiences of our lives and are fed by them. Yes, some are bitter; not all are luscious. If we will allow it, all may nourish us, enable us to renew ourselves and to grow, and are transformed by how we process them through our lives.

As time goes on, we move through and past experiences and situations. Some no longer have any usefulness. Some have been so transformed that the end product in our lives is toxic. It is time to let go, to eliminate. If we attempt to retain the toxins, our spirits will sicken and we will experience unspeakable pain and disease.

Just as physical elimination systems can malfunction or fail and require intervention, so do spiritual elimination systems. Sometimes we are so poisoned by what we hold on to that we are unable to see the need to let go. We may recognize that need, but be unable to release that which no longer serves. We require intervention.

Intervention may take the form of training for our spiritual "muscles", or the form of an event or individual that prepares the way and unblocks our hearts and souls, enabling us to expel the waste instead of cling to it. Sometimes, God has to perform drastic "surgery" and resection our lives.

The more I learn about the body, the more amazed I am at this "people suit" which houses the soul, and the more grateful I am to be allowed the privilege of inhabiting it. How amazing the interdependence: without our immortal soul, the electrons would cease their complex orbits and the molecular bonds would disintegrate, and to dust we would return. I hope it makes you all as awed and as grateful for every breath as it does me.

Have a truly blessed day!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vote for Bubba

I just love the rural Deep South. People run for political office using their childhood nicknames.

Where else will you see a television ad campaign soliciting your vote for Randy "Bubba" Pierce for Judge? "Vote for Bubba!" dozens of upbeat citizens exhorted. When Bubba came on screen to speak his piece, he was well-groomed, educated, articulate, and definitely had all his teeth. Not at all the stereotypical Bubba.

During the last local elections, among the candidates for sheriff were Ray "Two Bits" Dooley and Robert "Puppy" De Groot. Up north, you'd never see those nicknames on a ballot. You'd also never see them on large billboards and signs all over town. You'd definitely never hear people debating the candidates' merits saying things like, "Two Bits got more local experience, but Puppy was a marshal!"

There is something to be said, though, about running for office using a nickname. It implies a sense of continuity and familiarity with the community. It says that someone is known as a unique individual. There may be hundreds of Rays or Roberts in the vicinity, but Two Bits and Puppy could only be...well...Two Bits and Puppy.

It never fails to make me smile.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

There's no tryin' to reason with the hurricane season

Jimmy Buffett (a native of Pascagoula, Mississippi) was right. Those of us who call the Gulf Coast home know the statistics and accept the risk that a hurricane could directly affect our lives. Most of us are prudent and maintain a reasonable level of preparedness year-round.

I tell y'all though, we in the Magnolia State are starting to get a little fed up with the Weather Channel. According to their geography, the Gulf Coast of the United States consists of Texas, Louisiana, New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans, Poor Battered New Orleans Still Recovering From Katrina, Alabama, and Florida. Now, I took 5th grade geography and I'm pretty sure that they missed a state. I tried to post a comment to this effect on the Weather Channel viewer discussion forum, but they had closed it down after a flood of posts from other Mississippians pointing out the same thing. They still won't mention us by name.

[If you wonder why Mississippians get so upset at the mention of poor New Orleans, it's not that they don't sympathize. They do. But in the midst of the contstant media attention on New Orleans for over three years now, there has been so little media attention on Mississippi--even immediately after Katrina--that most of y'all aren't even aware that the entire MS coastline--over 80 miles--was completely obliterated by storm surge that was over 30 feet in some areas. The total destruction extended several miles inland, damages totaled over $125 billion, and we were left with 45 million cubic yards of debris which took nearly 18 months to haul away.

Mississippians don't want pity or welfare; they want to move on. While everyone has remained focused on New Orleans, they've scrambled to adjust, to innovate, to make do. They've helped each other, and are continuing to rebound. So hey y'all, come on down and have some shrimp or something, and help out our economy too. But I digress--]

There are a lot of jokes about how dumb everyone is in Mississippi, but unlike inhabitants of the other 49 states we manage to extrapolate critical storm warnings from the Weather Channel without our state ever being mentioned out loud, so at least (a) we know where we are located on a map of the United States, and (b) we can all read the dire warnings running across the bottom of the television screen. That's more literate than some high school graduates in Vermont these days. We're also smart enough to know that if Jim Cantore shows up in our town, we should pack all our valuables and run screaming at 150 miles per hour to Montana, so quit yer nit pickin'.

Speaking of help that isn't particularly helpful, how about FEMA's emergency supply packing list? If you're ever bored, look it up. You could open your own trailer park with all that stuff! How the average family is supposed to evacuate with even half of that in tow is beyond me...maybe we should all keep a Hurricane Preparedness Trailer packed and ready to pull north behind the little economy cars that are all anyone can afford to drive these days? 160 years ago it was "Wagons Ho!" when a great migration beckoned. "Prius Ho!" just doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

My husband and I had recently been venting our frustration on these subjects to one another. The following day, I received the bulletin below from a fellow Mississippian via email. I found it to be refreshingly accurate and genuinely helpful, so I thought I'd provide a public service by sharing it here:


Hurricane season is an exciting time to be in Mississippi . If you're new to the area, you're probably wondering what you need to do to prepare for the possibility that we'll get hit by another "big one." Based on our experiences, we recommend that you follow this simple three-step hurricane preparedness plan:

STEP 1: Buy enough food and bottled water to last your family for at least three days.
STEP 2: Put these supplies into your car.
STEP 3: Drive to Nebraska and remain there until Halloween.

Unfortunately, statistics show that most people will not follow this sensible plan. Most people will foolishly stay in Mississippi . Therefore, we offer the following tried-and-true hints from seasoned residents of the Magnolia State.


Your house should have hurricane shutters on all the windows and doors. There are several types of shutters, with advantages and disadvantages:

- Plywood shutters: The advantage is that, because you make them yourself, they're cheap. The disadvantage is that if they get hit by a flying lamp post, you're still going to need new windows.
- Roll-down shutters: The advantages are that they're very easy to use, and will definitely protect your house. The disadvantage is that you will have to sell your house to pay for them.


If you live in a low-lying area, you should have an evacuation route planned out ahead of time. To determine whether you live in a low-lying area, look at your driver's license. If it says "Mississippi", you live in a low-lying area. The purpose of having an evacuation route is to avoid being trapped in your home when a major storm hits. Instead, you will be trapped in a gigantic traffic jam several miles from your home, along with two hundred thousand other evacuees. As a bonus, you will not be lonely.

Of course these are just basic precautions. As the hurricane draws near, it is vitally important that you keep abreast of the situation by turning on your television (if you have a generator to keep the TV going) and watching TV reporters in rain slickers stand right next to the ocean and tell you over and over how vitally important it is for everybody to stay away from the ocean.

OK y'all...NOW come on down and have some crawfish or somethin'! We'll be lookin' for ya!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Love is in the air

Twice a year, the Gulf Coast is plagued by swarms of harmless black flying insects numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Their slow, drifting movement is almost reminiscent of snow fall. The flights occur twice each year, first in late spring, then again in late summer--for periods of 4 to 5 weeks. The wise Southerner breathes with his mouth shut in March, April, August, and September.

The Lovebug is so named because it spends almost the entirety of its adult life joined below the hip with its mate in one long love fest, even while in flight. After mating, the male dies, but the female drags him around by the hiney anyhow until she lays her eggs.

Lovebugs are the bane of car owners. During peak season, so many of them splatter on the windshield that you need to use your wiper blades and fluid even on short drives. The sheer volume of them plastered on the grill has been known to clog air intakes. If left for more than an hour or two, the remains become dried and extremely difficult to remove without a scraper; because the insect's body is so acidic, it can actually pit and etch paint and chrome.

For reasons nobody seems to know, lovebugs seem to be attracted to lighter colored objects and especially white ones. Rather than get all stressed that your white picket fence or car are now black, try to enjoy the seasonal decorating. Who knows? --the little critters may even inspire you to romance. Just don't try to nuzzle out on the porch swing, or you might get a little something more than sugah in your sweet bubby's kiss!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Today in Numbers

Times I hit the snooze button on the alarm: 0
Hugs and kisses before leaving the house: >20
Huge, unsolicited smiles from passers-by: 6
Spontaneous, spirit-lifting conversations with total strangers: 4
Words of encouragement from acquaintances: 2
Songs in my heart: 1 continuous streaming 'podcast' (Godcast?)

All of this, no less, by 3 pm on a Monday...I am blessed!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Words to grow by

True contentment lies not
in obtaining what you want,
but in wanting
what you already have.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Waste not, want not

I read an article recently that estimated the average American household wastes between $1,500 and $3,000 worth of food annually. In another article, the New York Times estimates that Americans throw out one fourth of what is available to eat. Wow.

We've all found a container of mystery leftovers at the back of the fridge, or thrown out the last 3 pieces of bread in a loaf because they've gone stale. But thousands of dollars worth of food? Could this be true?

An article by Laura Barton (July 8, 2008) in the Guardian, a British newspaper, estimated the average British household wastes roughly $800 worth of food a year. After having lived in England for nearly four years I can easily believe that figure would be lower than it is for Americans, because Brits have different buying habits. They tend to buy small amounts of fresh food daily, as opposed to stocking up with economy-sized, two-for-one "bargains" and putting them away until they are freezer burned or past their use-by date.

As I perused this article I discovered some great tips for avoiding waste. Interestingly, reading them made me aware of "blind spots", and how it is indeed possible to waste large quantities of food each year. I don't know about you, but that's $1,500 I'd rather have in my pocket.

At the risk of being 'punny', here's food for thought (you can read all of Laura's tips here). I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me!

1. Avoid the supermarket

The idea of the one-stop shop encourages you to buy more than you need. If you do have to go to a supermarket, make a list beforehand and stick to it rigorously - but do check that these are groceries you genuinely need, and not items you have just got into the habit of buying.

2. Shop more frequently for perishables.

By shopping daily or semi-weekly for perishables, you are less likely to buy mounds of vegetables and fruit that will then sit in the fridge spoiling. In addition, you will re-establish a connection with those who produce the food you eat. Supermarkets generally charge more than the independent greengrocer, produce stand, or farmer's market for fresh fruit and vegetables, especially seasonal produce.

3. Buy non-perishables in bulk.

Cupboard staples such as rice, pasta and lentils, along with canned and bottled items, tend to be cheaper in bulk.

4. Be storage savvy.

There are tons of household tips for storing foods to increase their longevity (many of them appear on the site), including keeping apples in the fridge so they last days longer than in the fruit bowl. Also, invest in some Extra Life Discs and Evert-Fresh Bags. These products make the veggies and fruits in you fridge last longer by reducing the ethylene gas that they give off as they ripen. Normally the refrigerator traps this gas, which results in the early rotting of your produce. The bags are reusable, and I can personally attest that this stuff works!

5. Meal-plan for the week.

If, at the beginning of the week, you work out precisely what you wish to cook over the next seven days (some of which may incorporate leftovers), you can then shop more frugally. This approach also eliminates the common feeling of returning from the store loaded with shopping bags but without a clue what to actually cook for dinner (sound familiar?).

6. Reacquaint yourself with your freezer.

The freezer compartment is not just for storing ice cubes and several inches of encrusted ice, but also to keep leftovers for future meals. has plenty of basic tips for the novice.

7. Don't be afraid of an empty fridge.

A refrigerator is temporary food storage for perishables. You do not need to buy acres of food each week to keep it chock-full.

8. Buy vegetables whole.

Fresh veggies bought whole are cheaper than pre-chopped ones. They will also last longer, because as soon as fruit or vegetables are processed in any way - even just picked, handled and washed - they begin to decompose.

9. Learn how to use leftovers.

You don't just want to re-heat them as-is? There are websites out there ( and are two) that, once you've typed in the primary and secondary ingredients you have left over, will search their databases for recipes to use them up. If that isn't way cool, I don't know what is.

10. Equip yourself.

Introduce yourself to the crock pot, the freezer bag, and the salad spinner. Learn something new! Make your own bread--it's quick, easy and so much better tasting than a loaf of puffed air. It's also much cheaper. Try making your own ice cream; it's more of a treat that way. Try making delicious meals out of what you have in the fridge and pantry, instead of running out for a pizza because you lack inspiration.

As you chop, mince, dice and saute, invite someone else to join you! You'll enjoy creative fellowship with your partner, have a chance to joyfully teach your children, and time will fly.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How to Build Community

One of my readers recently wrote and said, "I envy the sense of community you mention so often in your posts. I really do. But let's be realistic--this is not something you can expect to find outside of small, rural towns...and most of us do not live in small, rural towns."

I hear this sentiment from people often. It is apparently not an isolated one, because it comes from both North and South; from cities of 2 million inhabitants to smaller towns of 30,000; from the affluent, and from people who can barely eke out a living. I understand, because it is a feeling I used to voice quite plaintively in another era of my life.

When I first moved South, I didn't step right into an idealistic utopia. There wasn't a party held in my honor, or even a bunch of neighbors lined up to welcome me into the fold with home-baked banana bread in hand.

What I did find upon arrival in an already-established community was that the social soil was fertile and the climate quite amenable to growing transplants, like me.

Dear readers, it may be true that small, rural towns in the Deep South are more fertile ground for growing community than, say, urban Detroit. Continuing with our gardening metaphor, though, even the poorest soils can be amended with a little bit of work and ingenuity, ultimately yielding as rich a crop as any other locale. In short, it doesn't matter where you live.

When I was a young girl bemoaning the fact that my dreams weren't magically coming true to transform my life, my grandmother--who, incidentally, grew up in small-town, rural Pennsylvania--used to gently chide me by quoting, "If it's going to be, it's up to me." Grandma also said that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

What Grandma meant was, "Make it happen! (and be nice)." You can't change the raw materials you've been given, but you can choose what you do with them. You can't always choose your environment, but you can choose how you respond to it. Change is never impossible, and it is sometimes easier than we think.

At the risk of flogging to death my theme that "little things make a big difference", well....they do! Consider these suggestions on how to build community from Karen Kerney:
  • Turn off your TV.

  • Leave your house.

  • Know your neighbors.

  • Look up when you are walking.

  • Greet people.

  • Sit on your stoop/porch.

  • Plant flowers. You will bless passers-by without even realizing that you are doing so.

  • Use your library.

  • Buy from local merchants instead of mega-chains.

  • Share what you have (not just resources but things like knowledge, expertise, time, an extra pair of hands, gently used kids' toys or clothes, extra veggies from your garden...)

  • Take children to the park.

  • Garden together.

  • Support neighborhood schools (even if your kids don't go there--do you have time to read stories to elementary students or volunteer twice a month?).

  • Have pot lucks.

  • Honor elders.

  • Pick up litter.

  • Talk to the mail carrier.

  • Listen to the birds.

  • Help carry something heavy.

  • Hold a door open for someone.

  • Barter for your goods.

  • Ask a question.

  • Hire young people for odd jobs.

  • Organize a block party.

  • Ask for help when you need it.

  • Open your shades.

  • Share your skills.

  • Listen before you react to anger.

  • Seek to understand.

  • Learn from new and uncomfortable angles.

  • Know that no one is silent though many are not heard. Work to change this.
What would you add to this list?

In my longings for a sense of community, I have learned over the years that I must reach out to others; I must step out and assume my place as part of a community. The first step is as simple as a warm, smiling greeting to someone in the grocery store who wasn't expecting it. I dare you to implement one of these suggestions every day this week, wherever you are. Next week, implement another. The week after that, still another. Be careful, though...your world will change!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ode to a Country Store

The country store is an institution that most people believe to have gone by the wayside. It still thrives in the rural South, not only as a source of food and the miscellaneous necessities of life, but as a gathering place for locals. It is also a kind of living community bulletin board, with news passed on by request. As you stop in for coffee or to buy bread and milk you can also get a referral for an honest tradesman, find out if someone had their baby, buy a raffle ticket to support the volunteer fire department, donate to the charitable fund set up for the neighbor who is undergoing cancer treaments and can no longer support his family, convey best wishes for someone's golden anniversary through the grapevine, or mobilize the community for a worthy cause.

Over the last year I've become a regular at Taylor's Food Store. It is on my way in to college, and I stop in four or five days a week for a cup of coffee, to check the selection of fresh produce from local farmers, to surprise my husband with some homemade cajun sausage, or just to chat and see how everyone is doing.

The store has been a community gathering point for over 98 years. In 1910, Mr. C.E. Dees established the Dees Co. General Merchandise store at 81 Main Street in Perkinston, MS. Customers could purchase everything from feed to comic books. In 1966, Elwood Taylor purchased the store from Mr. Dees and changed the name to Taylor's Food Store. Mr. Taylor continued the tradition of being family owned and operated for 30 years. In 1996, Mr. Taylor retired and his Daughter and Son-in-law, Marsha and Billy Smith took over the business.

In August 2006, Sonny and Jennifer Woodard purchased Taylor's Food Store and changed the name to JnS Market and Deli, Inc.--though it still says Taylor's Food Store over the door. Sonny and Jennifer are residents of Perkinston and active in their community. The deli at the back of the store offers fresh biscuits and sausage, ham, or bacon for breakfast, along with freshly brewed coffee. There are tables and chairs if you'd like to set a spell. The butcher case displays the very best hand-cut meat selection in Stone County, and there is a seasonal variety of fresh, locally-grown produce at the front of the store.

Everyone who enters can expect a warm down-home, southern-style welcome when they enter the store and a friendly "come see us again" good-bye when they leave.

When I stopped in this morning for some coffee and a chat, I was sincerely and deeply saddened to learn that Mr. Sonny will be closing the doors for good on August 22nd. The economic downturn of recent months has made it impossible for him to keep them open. I left the store feeling like a good friend has just died. I'm concerned for the Woodwards, of course. This is not an easy time to be changing careers. I hope that the future will go well for them.

There will also be a big empty space in the community. The Woodwards' shoes will be hard to fill. Not only did they provide goods and services; they genuinely cared about the wellbeing of Stone County and about every person who came through their doors, and managed to communicate that. They will be missed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bean there, done that

On Monday Miss Joan and I were comparing our biscuit recipes, talking about cooking in general and about the kind of country cooking that satisfies hard-working, hungry men in particular. At the same time, we were singing the praises of the abundance of fresh produce that is grown locally and available at farmers' markets and roadside truck beds.

Since we were on the topic of Southern country food, Miss Joan threw down the gauntlet: "There's nothin' like a mess of crowders to satisfy a hungry man. How do you make yours?" For the first time that morning, a look of uncertainty crossed my face. "Ah, well, I've never made them", I replied. "Try it!", she encouraged. Have I mentioned that I'm one of those people who is highly motivated by a challenge?

Tuesday's Gulfport Sun-Herald had an article extolling the virtues of hand-shelled field peas (which are also interchangeably called beans, just to make it interesting). The South abounds with a long list of varieties: purple hull peas, pink lady peas, speckled butter beans, silver crowders, and washday cowpeas, along with the more well-known black-eyed peas and lima beans. They are all members of the legume family, rich in protein, fiber and other nutrients.

Armed with some recipes to try, I set off this morning to the Farmer's Market, over in front of Hudson's Farm Supply. I found a sweet watermelon for my husband and a quarter bushel each of brown crowders, calico butter beans, and baby limas. A dozen fresh brown eggs later, and we were on our way home.

My daughter sat down to a snack of freshly-baked bread and butter while I headed outside to pick green beans, roma tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes from the garden. The latter went into my lunchtime salad, and the romas were reserved for dinner.

Along with some grilled ham steaks, we enjoyed crowders simmered in a light tomato sauce. That's what the recipe calls them, at any rate. After one taste, I was sold. I think I'd call them a little bite of heaven.

Here's what you need:

3 cups shelled crowder peas
1 Tbsp light olive oil
3 slices good quality bacon
1 cup onion, finely diced
1/3 cup celery, finely diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups fresh tomatoes, finely diced
1 cup pork stock (chicken stock could be used in a pinch)
freshly cracked pepper

Now, here's what you do (it looks like a lot, but is really simple):

Wash and pick over the crowders. Put them in a large saucepan with a piece of ham and cover well with water. Season with a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook, partially covered, skimming off any foam and stirring often until tender but not mushy, anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes. When ready, remove from heat and set aside (don't drain yet).

While the peas are cooking, pour the oil into a cast iron skillet and cook the bacon over medium-low heat, turning as needed, until it is well-browned and very crisp. Remove bacon from pan and set aside.

Add the onion and celery to the bacon grease (there's very little), sprinkle generously with salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and stir well. If there isn't enough bacon grease, you can add a tablespoon or two of light olive oil so that the onions and celery don't stick and burn.
Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onion and celery are just tender (about 10 mins). Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in the diced tomato and sprinkle with salt. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally, and add stock. Simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring as needed. Add more stock if the sauce becomes too thick. Taste carefully for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Drain the cooked crowders, retaining the cooking liquid. Add crowders to the simmering tomato sauce and stir well. Simmer gently for five to ten minutes, adding a bit more stock or some of the reserved cooking liquid (known as 'pot likker' in the South) if the sauce becomes too dry. Taste carefully and add seasoning if needed.

Serve hot with the cooked bacon crumbled over it and mixed in. I guarantee you will be expressing your pleasure from the very first bite.

While I was at Hudson's, I also managed to find seeds for our fall vegetable garden: red beets, carrots, romaine lettuce, purple globe turnips, peas, butternut squash, broccoli and onions. That should give me many more recipes to try come October...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Miss Joan

Yesterday, my three year old daughter and I went to Daily Fresh Donuts for our weekly treat. While I was paying Miss V. and my daughter was carefully carrying her doughnut to our table, I noticed a smiling woman seated at the neighboring table. She appeared to be in her early 50's and had kind eyes.

Apparently my daughter thought so too, because she greeted the woman very brightly. The woman raised her eyes to me and said, "I love little ones. They're so precious, I could just eat them up with a spoon! They know, too. They know when an adult is kind, otherwise they won't have anything to do with them and they'll cringe. They always seem to know I'm a grandmother, that's for sure! A little one in the grocery store waved at me the other day sayin', 'Hi, MeeMaw!' over and over!" I nodded knowingly and agreed that small children are amazing judges of character.

Miss V. came over and introduced us properly. So it was that I made the acquaintance of Miss Joan. Since there were no other customers at the time, Miss V. drew up a chair and we all began chatting. It's amazing how, in small communities, one's life story comes pouring out so quickly and so easily. It feels safe, though. People tend to respond in a way that says, "What can I do for you?" rather than "Oooh, I can't wait to dish the dirt on this one!" Telling our stories creates a sense of solidarity; it strengthens the bonds of community.

Miss Joan's story is an inspiring one. She may have been born in upstate New York, but she is the most quintessentially Southern lady I have ever met. She was a nurse for "22 years, nine months, and six days" as she tells it. That's how she met her husband. He was wounded in the Vietnam war, shrapnel to the chest, and she nursed him back to health. He was a career military man and they lived in many places before retiring in South Mississippi.

Together they had ten children and 23 grandchildren, and she has loved every minute of it. "Ten children?" my mouth gaped momentarily. "I can't imagine how it didn't wear you out." A defiant sparkle lit Miss Joan's eye as she threw back her shoulders and retorted, "It was fun! And I'm no superwoman. But if one of the kids was up sick all night, I'd be right there with them. I could stay up for three days straight if I had to. They're my babies. That's just what you do."

She spent the last five years of her nursing career caring for her terminally ill husband. It seemed fitting to lay nursing to rest along with him as she moved into the uncharted waters of the next chapter of her life. "We did everything together", she said. "We had all kinds of adventures. Now, I'm having to find new things to do on my own." One of her sons owns the Beatrice Sawmill & Construction Company, and built her a cabin behind his own on their 42 acres. She now feeds the crew at the mill for both breakfast and lunch. Sometimes there is only one man; at other times there are close to 30. Whatever Miss Joan feeds them it is always made from scratch, including the bread. "It's so easy!", she said. "It makes me sick that the most baking these girls nowadays do is pop open one of those biscuit tubes. I won't even touch one of them. A tube!", she scoffed.

As our lively conversation went back and forth, Miss Joan talked about all the activities that help her to keep fit and strong. She let it slip that she is in her 70's--though like a true Southern lady, she declined to say at which end of that decade. Her indefatiguable nature has served her well. She is an amazing asset not only to her community in Beatrice, but to the greater community in Wiggins and as a model to younger generations.

Back and forth our banter went for over an hour. When I told the story of having to perform CPR on my third child when she was ten days old, Miss Joan and Miss V. choked up with tears alongside me. We laughed together at tales of the antics of our children. We talked about the state of the community and the economy. We shared tidbits from the rich founts of knowledge each one of us has amassed over the years. We encouraged each other, not only for what lay ahead the remainder of that day, but as women--in all of the roles we fulfill with our lives.

As Miss Joan and I rose to leave, there were hugs all around. "Come see me in Beatrice sometime", she said. Miss V. had found her second wind and returned to the kitchen with renewed energy. I went on my way feeling blessed by the love of new friends.

I wonder how many other lives Miss Joan and Miss V. have touched. They may seem like ordinary women with unremarkable lives; on closer examination, they prove to be quite extraordinary. I am certain that there are too many people to count who would testify to that.

Each one of us who lives and breathes is truly extraordinary, whether or not we realize it. What we choose to do with our life can and does make a difference in the lives of others--a difference for better or for worse, depending on how we have chosen. May we all live as mindfully, as purposefully, as kindly, as indefatiguably, as compassionately as Miss Joan and Miss V.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking on Goliath

I never gave much thought or did much research into the greater impact my small choices would have on the environment or the economy at large. Why? "One person can only do so much", I'd shrug. I didn't see that my little ways could make much of a big difference beyond the four walls I inhabited.

Even before prices started trending upward and the economy spiraling downward, my husband and I had been discussing sustainable living and implementing greater measures of it here in our home and on our land. Our motive? It is just the right thing to do. Again, we didn't really consider an impact beyond the borders of our property.

So, what has changed? The longer I live in a small rural community, the more I realize that our seemingly small choices add up--not only in our own bank accounts, but for our local economies. The more I've read and studied on sustainable living over the past few weeks, I realize that the ripples from one well-thrown pebble continue out beyond town and county, gaining momentum as they merge with the ripples from others, until our national economy is affected as well.

In case you doubt whether small lifestyle changes have a significant cumulative impact, consider these examples:

  • Kicking a daily soda habit can save you $130 a month. That's a savings of $1,560 over a year.

  • Cutting your daily shower to 10 minutes from 15 minutes will save you $102 a year.

  • Brewing your own cup of coffee instead of picking up a latte at Starbucks will save you
    $912 annually. A tall latte at the local Starbucks runs about $3 a cup, or $1,095 a year if you go there every day. If you brew your own at home for 50 cents or less per cup, you'll pay a more modest $183.

  • Preparing your own lunch rather than buying out will save $1,460 to $3,650. If you make lunch from last night's leftovers, you can avoid spending an extra $4 to $10 a day.

  • If you can avoid paying for bottled water (at $1 to $1.50 a bottle), you can save at least $5 to $7.50 for each five-day work week. That's a yearly savings of $260 to $390.

  • If you replace just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent one you'll save $6 in electricity costs over a year, according to the EnergyStar program. If you've got 20 bulbs in your house, those savings will start to look even brighter--around $120.

Little things? Perhaps. But these six minor lifestyle changes would put $6,734 per year back in your pocket--a significant impact, indeed. That's bigger than any economic stimulus package the government could ever whip up.

One person can (only) do so much.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

~Margaret Mead

Thursday, July 10, 2008


A few people have recently emailed to see if I am alright. It seems they found the dearth of new posts rather worrisome, given that I usually have an observation to share about everything. Fret not...I have just decelerated into the standard pace of summertime living in the Deep South: slow motion.

It's not the heat; it's the humidity.

After all, 94 degrees isn't hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. Yet after a short walk to the mail box at the end of the driveway, I have perspiration dripping off the end of my nose. I am not quite sure why I dry my hair every morning, because as soon as I step outside, it's wet again. Makeup would slide off of my face like a clock in a Salvador Dali painting, so I don't bother. Even the most put-together, perfectly coiffed southern belles are looking a bit wilted.

I thought that I would have acclimated by now, as this is my third summer here. I haven't. After taking a closer look at my neighbors, I realize that they haven't acclimated, either. They have merely adapted: they slow down.

The heat does sap a person's strength, but if one moves slowly enough, there's time to enjoy any breeze generated by the movement, right? Seriously, working hard in these conditions requires frequent breaks in order to avoid heat exhaustion. I now understand why movies set in the Deep South have everyone sitting under a fan on a shady porch, drinking iced tea. It helps like nothing else does.

Slowing down has its benefits. We spend more time talking with family and friends. We are more aware of the beauty of creation, and our dependence upon it. We have time to dream and to plan; time to give attention to the little things that are overlooked or forgotten when life is busier. We tend to look toward heaven and say 'thank you' much more often than we would otherwise do, because there is time to reflect on our blessings and the bounty that is ours.


Guess this transplant has taken root.

Pardon me, ma'am, but your roots are showing

The dictionary defines 'grassroots' as of, pertaining to, or involving the common people, esp. as contrasted with or separable from an elite. I am definitely of the common people. I also get very passionate about issues that pertain to jus' folks, especially when they involve imbalances perpetrated by the privileged and powerful.

It is written that much is required from those to whom much has been given. The public must call to account not only elected authorities, but also those in positions of economic influence. We need to be certain that we elect individuals who will be faithful stewards of the power and resources entrusted to them for their term of office.

However, there is far more to activism that voting, writing letters, making phone calls, and increasing public awareness. Mountains aren't moved by screaming at them or by glitzy ad campaigns. Mahatma Gandhi--perhaps the ultimate example of a grassroots activist--wrote, "BE the change you wish to see in the world". In modern terms, it's called walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

Crisis demands change, and we are a nation in crisis. One person can make such a difference! If a growing percentage of the American population were to step out of the comfort zone and make simple, easy to implement lifestyle changes and choices, the cumulative effect would be powerful. Vote with your wallet, and I guarantee that those in power will listen!
  • If you can, buy organic foods and green products. Not only are they free of harmful chemicals; a recent study has proven organic foods to be higher in nutrients than their chemically bombarded counterparts. They also have more flavor. Both of these factors lead to you feeling satiated more quickly, and therefore eating less.

  • If you can't--and perhaps even more important than buying organic--buy local foods and eat what is in season.

  • Patronize farmers markets.

  • Start or expand your garden. Even city dwellers can grow a few things in containers.

  • Move your diet away from restaurant fare and over-consuming meat and animal products.

  • Buy in bulk and cook your meals at home with healthy whole foods ingredients--vegetables, fruits, beans and grains.

I am grateful that rural life enables me to live these choices on a daily basis. The fewer processed, imported, or transported goods I buy, the less fuel is used to make them and move them. The more I buy locally, the stronger the local economy becomes--which, in turn, benefits me economically. As a fringe benefit, I also spend less on gas and on shipping costs.

Small choices are like pebbles thrown into a pond--they create ripples that spread incredibly far and wide. Small choices lived collectively by large numbers of people make waves of change that improve life for us all.

Make positive choices for yourself, and then take action.

Do something.

Be the change.

Be the pebble that sends out ripples of empowerment.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The High Cost of Low, Low Prices

Wal-Mart is a big deal in small Southern towns. People are either for it or against it, and most likely have personal reasons for their strong opinion. I used to poke fun at the heated debates over the existence of Wal-Mart until I moved here and began to observe its effects firsthand.

Unfortunately, once Wal-Mart takes hold and flourishes in a small community, it soon becomes just about the only gig in town. Over the first five years after a Wal-Mart opens, retailers' sales of apparel drop 28% on average, hardware sales fall by 20%, and sales of specialty stores fall by 17%. Food stores lose 17% of their sales. The flow of money into the local economy dries to a mere trickle. Local businesses are forced to close their doors; Main Streets and old downtown store fronts are boarded up.

Since this once-remote issue is now just outside my back door, I've been doing a lot of reading lately. I once ignorantly thought that Wal-Mart provides jobs and thereby benefits the economy. Alas, the jobs it provides come at a high cost to the community.

A recenty study by the National Bureau of Economic Research used Wal-Mart's own store data and government data for all counties where Wal-Mart has operated for 30 years. It found that the average Wal-Mart store reduces per capita earnings by 5 percent in the county in which it operates.

The majority of Wal-Mart employees' earnings place them far below the poverty line. In addition, Wal-Mart has a habit of forcing employees work off the clock in order to avoid having to classify them as full time and therefore provide benefits. The result is that one 200-employee Wal-Mart store may cost federal taxpayers $420,750 in federal assistance per year.

I was amazed to find that state and local governments actually subsidize about one-third of all Wal-Mart retail stores--at least $1 billion to date.

We have all seen the political cartoon where Wal-Mart is handing U.S. Dollars to China, but here are the actual statistics:

70% of the commodities sold in Wal-Mart are made in China.

Wal-Mart was responsible for about 1/10th of the U.S. trade deficit with China in 2005.

If Wal-Mart were an individual economy, it would rank as China's eighth-biggest trading partner, ahead of Russia, Australia and Canada.

I don't know about you, but I find it absolutely scary that a corporation has that much power to influence the U.S. government and the world economy. Wal-Mart is not the only corporate entity we should be calling to account...the oil companies and pharmaceutical giants are members of this echelon, too. Oh, how far we have fallen in just six decades!

In 1945 most of the United States' six million family farmers were still rotating their crops and cultivating a wide variety of fruits, grains, beans, and vegetables organically, fertilizing with natural compost, and generally practicing sustainable farming methods they had learned from their parents and grandparents.

The nutritious, primarily non-processed foods that people cooked for their family meals were purchased from locally owned grocers who stocked their shelves with a wide variety of items - typically grown or raised within a 100 mile radius of our communities.

The post-war generation was relatively healthy in terms of low rates of diet-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, food allergies, birth defects, and learning disabilities. In spite of the fact that average life expectancy has increased over the past several decades, the health of the general population has declined drastically.

Sixty years later we have become a Fast Food Nation, stuffing ourselves on the industrialized world's cheapest and most chemically contaminated fare. We allow out-of-control politicians, corporations and technocrats to waste our tax money on corporate welfare, destroy the environment, and starve the poor.

Does this mean that I'm becoming a grass roots activist for socio-economic change? What next? Stay tuned for part two...

PPS Local 455--Come on down and set a spell

Professional Porch Sitters (PPS) is an informal organization with a large and growing grassroots membership. To become a member you simply need to say you are a member and agree to sit around with friends and neighbors shooting the breeze as often as possible or practical. Preferably on a porch, but that's not critical.

There are no dues, no membership requirements, no mailings, no agenda, no committees, no worries. PPS believes that the radical act of sitting around sharing stories with no specific agenda is critical to building sustainable communities. Indeed, PPS believes that building sustainable communities is one of the most important things that can be done in these trying times.

Television and air-conditioning have moved far too many people off their porches and into their homes where they quickly become isolated from their communities. We believe that sometimes the most effective course of action is to sit down and relax while sipping lemonade and sharing stories.

PPS only has one rule, but it's more like a suggestion: "Sit down a spell. That can wait."

Starting your own chapter of PPS is simple. You simply declare yourself a local chapter, pick a number to represent your Local Chapter identity and then sit back with friends and neighbors to celebrate with an interesting story or two. Meetings can be called at any time by any member and attendance is optional.

You are invited to communicate with PPS Headquarters but that is voluntary since no records are kept. PPS was founded on a porch in Louisville, Kentucky in 1999 but many additional chapters have been founded since then. Perhaps your chapter will be next.

We would love to hear from you if you start up a chapter, but don't sweat it if you don't. Inquiries can be addressed to:

PPS Local 1339
1339 Hull Street
Louisville KY, 40204

Monday, June 16, 2008

Leavin' on a jet plane

After worrying that there might not be enough to do in Mississippi, my daughter--all in the course of two weeks of normal family living--had biked country roads, gone swimming in the creek, driven a golf cart, won a diving contest, swam in a salt water pool, attended two military retirements, gone to two backyard BBQ's, played in the water hose, caught frogs, overcame her fear of large dogs to walk ours on a leash and pet the neighbor's three, driven a four-wheeler, gone fishing, gone bargain-hunting at local haunts, was offered an apprenticeship at a local pottery studio for next summer, and discovered that at Parkers Pecans and Scrap Metal (We Buy Fur), recycling pays cash.

After the first week, she was introducing herself as "a country girl and a city girl" and had mastered the liberal use of "y'all". Her complexion was glowing, her smile was radiant, and she was truly relaxed.

After an all-too-short visit, the day came when I had to take my oldest to the airport to meet her father and fly back to his home. Both our hearts were heavy and emotions were running high, but we enjoyed some wonderful conversation along the drive to New Orleans International Airport.

About fifteen miles out of Wiggins she sighed and said, "Well, now I have to go back to GOing and DOing, instead of BEing. You know, if it weren't for the fire ants and some of the bugs, this would be just about the perfect place to live." I smiled, empathized about the biting creatures, and gently reminded her that she is in control of herself and of her life; no matter where she is, she can still make time to BE; time to connect with the green world around her, or with the stars in the heavens; time to connect with the Creator, and find her peace away from all the demands that come with busy-ness. She nodded sagely and said she was going to try. I believe that she can do anything she sets her mind to doing.

I miss her so much it physically hurts...but I believe in her. I believe that her pure, unconditionally loving heart, sustained by her faith and by the love of her family and friends, can overcome any challenge presented by this materialistic world.

I love all of my children unconditionally, and I love all of them equally. There is no favoritism here. But the bond between a mother and her firstborn is unique. We had to learn so much together, and we taught each other well. We are still teaching one another, and still learning together. Every day is an adventure in growth, in love, in laughter, sometimes in patience, and in learning. It is always a privilege, and always a joy.

On our way to the airport, we were routed through a section of New Orleans that was still comprised of mostly boarded-up homes, destroyed by flooding when the levees burst after Katrina. She was at first surprised, then saddened, then somber as she learned how long it takes to recover from a disaster of that magnitude and the subsequent bureaucratic wranglings.

Daisy, let's never stop exploring, learning, and growing together. I love you. Our bond is eternal. May every blessing of heaven be yours, today and always.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

There oughtta be a law...

Judging by the statutes below--all of which are still on the books of these Southern states--there are some pretty interesting folks running around. After all, if a law exists, you know more than one person has done something to prompt it...

As well as I have transplanted to Southern soil, before undertaking this research I honestly did not know that the South had such an epidemic of large animals in bathtubs, ice cream cones in pockets, enterprising cotton farmers, aggressive senior citizens, or that they were such kill-joys in Texas and Virginia: C'mon, no going barefoot, trick-or-treating, or tickle fights? Geez!

-No turtle races may be held at the airport.

-It is illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle.

North Carolina
-You can't plow a cotton field with an elephant.

South Carolina
-Horses may not be kept in bathtubs.

-Alligators may not be kept in bathtubs.

-Donkeys may not be kept in bathtubs. (Do you see a pattern here??)
-No one may carry an ice cream cone in their back pocket if it is Sunday.

-A city ordinance states that a person cannot go barefoot without first obtaining a special five-dollar permit.
-It's illegal to put graffiti on someone else's cow.

-Biting someone with your natural teeth is “simple assault,” while biting someone with your false teeth is “aggravated assault".
-It is a $500 fine to instruct a pizza delivery man to deliver a pizza to your friend without them knowing.

-Children are not to go trick-or-treating on Halloween.
-It is illegal to tickle women.

Now, Kentucky and Tennessee fall into a special category, being technically in the South but the center of the Hillbilly world. Accordingly, they have some extra special laws:

-By law, anyone who has been drinking is "sober" until he or she "cannot hold onto the ground."
-It is illegal to transport an ice cream cone in your pocket.
-Every citizen of Kentucky is required by law to take a bath at least once a year.

-You can’t shoot any game other than whales from a moving automobile.
-It is illegal to use a lasso to catch a fish.

Now that all of my Northern readers are feeling pretty smug about themselves and laughing at the poor, ignorant South, let's see what faux pas their kin are guilty of having committed:

- In Fairbanks, it is illegal to feed alcoholic beverages to a moose.

- Any misdemeanor committed while wearing a red mask is considered a felony. (A black mask, however, is fine.)

- It is illegal for anyone to give lighted cigars to dogs, cats, and other domesticated animal kept as pets.

- No gorilla may be in the back seat of any car at any time.
- Mourners at a wake may not eat more than three sandwiches.

- A parent can be arrested if her/his child cannot hold back a burp during a church service.

- Any motorist who sights a team of horses coming toward him must pull well off the road, cover his car with a blanket or canvas that blends with the countryside, and let the horses pass. If the horses appear skittish, the motorist must take his car apart, piece by piece, and hide it under the nearest bushes.

- All lollipops are banned.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Congrats on a job well done

On my recent trip, I found--to my great chagrin--that 160 miles of Interstate 85 was under construction. Between Atlanta, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama, four lanes were reduced to two and at times to one, and traffic moved along suitably slowly. Frustration and boredom set in suitably quickly. At times like these, the eyes try to take in the scenery and the mind begins to wander in a hypnotic daze...

I began to notice that there were porta-potties roughly every two miles along the construction lanes. When I saw the sign on the doors, I burst out laughing. I could just hear a masculine TV announcer's voice in my head: "For the man who works hard on the job site and in the bathroom, there's finally a potty that congratulates you on a job well done"--

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Beeping, BEing, and Scratching That Itch

I've been on the road again. Over an 8-day period I drove 3,000 miles. I'm so tired of driving that I don't even want to go three miles to the Pig(gly Wiggly) for milk! My three-year-old daughter and I once again braved the Nefarious North to visit our beloved ones, and to bring my oldest back to Mississippi for a few weeks of country livin'.

During the course of our long drive home, her cell phone was beeping every three minutes. Fingers moved fast and furious as text messages flew between her and her classmates. Most of them kept asking her every two hours, "Are you there YET?" I had to laugh--my three-year-old only asked that twice on the entire trip!

One of my daughter's friends sympathized with the boredom of the long drive, and then said he felt sorry for her because he just knew there would be nothing to do in Mississippi. She texted back, retorting that there was plenty to do in Ole Miss, hit the send button, and then looked at me questioningly: "Mom, just what is there to do in Mississippi? --Besides spend time with you, I mean?"

I laughed again, and started a long list of things she might enjoy doing during her stay with me. She looked at me a little skeptically, and came back with a list of things her friends enjoy doing in their spare time--most of which are entirely consumer-oriented and not inexpensive.

I listened, and then noted that those activities are dependent on the service and entertainment industries, all of which suffer during economic recession. Times are hard, and they are going to get harder.

I posed this challenge to my thirteen-year-old daughter: "You are used to a lifestyle based on GOing and DOing. What would happen if you had to adopt a lifestyle based on BEing? Could you create your own diversions? Could you grow to fully appreciate the miraculous, interconnected world in which we live?"

We rode in silence for a while. I noted that in the rural South, life is based more on BEing. People tend to be more aware of their connection with, and dependence upon, the Earth. Most of us in the country have the opportunity to be more self-sustaining than people who live in cities, and can therefore be less impacted by hard times.

I went on to tell her that she has a unique opportunity in life: to experience both sides of the coin, since one parent lives in a large northern city and one parent lives in a small town in the rural South. By learning from, understanding, and appreciating both environments and both ways of life, she can perhaps make a greater difference for good when her generation assumes the mantle of leadership. Her generation will face critical decisions about how to manage and sustain the limited resources we take for granted, and will be forced to implement very hard changes in order to ensure the future of the human race.

The rest of our trip was lighthearted, and when we got home, she wanted to read my blog to absorb more anecdotes about rural life. After several posts, she said, "Nice blog, Mom...but my butt itches from two days in the car. I can't sit anymore!", and ran out to play in the water hose and enjoy our gorgeous green slice of paradise. I had to agree that the garden was the perfect antidote for a bad case of road rear, and followed her out.

It has taken a day or two, but she has shifted very nicely into the country mode of living. I hope it blesses her the way it has blessed me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

He Stood the Watch

Today I honor my beloved husband, soulmate and best friend,

CEC(SCW) Walter J. Goulet, Jr.
Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy Seabees

on the occasion of his retirement from active duty after twenty years of

  • faithful and meritorious service,
  • deployments too numerous to count all over the world,
  • multiple combat tours,
  • years away from family and friends,
  • missed births, birthdays and Christmases,
  • on the job injuries,
  • humanitarian aid projects completed,
  • students trained,
  • troops mentored,
  • battles fought,
  • tears wept, and
  • achievements won.
In simple terms, his job was to keep the lights on--no matter what. He lights up my world so brightly that even the darkest nights of the soul are but wisps of gray cloud.

John, I love you, and I'm bursting with pride at the passion, excellence, unwavering strength, commitment, and compassion with which you've done your job these past twenty years, defending the rights of the rest of us to exercise our freedoms.

I sleep well at night because you've got my back; I am privileged to be under your vigilant protection, and I am grateful. I hope that the rest of America is, too.

As for me, I am just his lighthouse keeper. I will be privileged to keep the lights on for him for the rest of my life.

For twenty years
This sailor has stood the watch.

While some of us were in our bunks at night
This sailor stood the watch.

While some of us were in school learning our trade
This shipmate stood the watch.

Yes.. even before some of us were born into this world
This shipmate stood the watch.

In those years when the storm clouds of war

were seen brewing on the horizon of history
This shipmate stood the watch.

Many times he would cast an eye ashore

and see his family standing there,
Needing his guidance and help,
Needing that hand to hold during those hard times,
But he still stood the watch.

He stood the watch for twenty years.

He stood the watch so that we, our families and
Our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly in safety,
Each and every night,
Knowing that a sailor stood the watch.

Today we are here to say
"Shipmate... the watch stands relieved
Relieved by those you have trained, guided, and led.
Shipmate you stand relieved.. we have the watch..."

"Botswain, stand by to pipe the side...Shipmate's going ashore."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Lemon Pledge

My three year old daughter and I were silently enjoying the scenery as we traveled along a country road en route to her preschool.

"Mommy!" Her commanding voice drew me away from my mental review of the day's errands.

"Yes, honey?"

"Are we doing the lemon?"

My mind frantically sifted through memories of the last several days, looking for something--anything--to which she might be referring. I drew a complete and utter blank so asked her, "What lemon, sweetie?"

"The speed lemon, Mama!" she replied in a slightly exasperated tone before generously adding, "You know, how fast we are going in the car".

"Ah, the speed limit! Yes, we are doing the speed limit. Do you see that white sign on the side of the road? It says '40'. Now look at my speedometer here. Do you see the red line? It is pointing to 40, too. When the numbers match, that means I am doing the speed limit."

"Oh, OK." My daughter sighed in relief, then beamed. "Good job, Mama! But that white sign says 'Speed Limit 40', not just '40'."

I shook my head in amazement. "So it does", I said. When did she learn to read the words on that sign? And when did she learn about the speed limit? I hadn't taught her, and my husband later confirmed that he hadn't, either.

We arrived at preschool and I helped her out of the car. She pointed excitedly and shouted, "Ooh, look, Mommy, an American flag!" She stood straight and tall, placed her right hand over her heart, and began to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I stood quietly at her side, listening in growing wonder as she perfectly articulated the entire Pledge, including the word 'indivisible'.

When she was finished, I praised her and noted that 'indivisible' was a big word. She nodded sagely. "I can say 'commodity' and that's a big word too, Mama. But you forgot to put your right hand over your heart. Maybe you better come inside to circle time so Miss Mandy can show you the right way to do it."

I scooped her up into my arms and, placing my cheek against hers, gave her the biggest bear hug I could muster. Smiling, I carried her inside.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good Morning, Sunshine!

At our house, the alarm clock goes off early in the morning: between 4:45 and 5:15. Although my loving husband wants me to get my rest and tiptoes around trying not to wake me, I like to try and rise with him so that I can start his day with a hug and a kiss, and pour him a hot cup of coffee for the drive into work.

Once he is on his way, I open the doors leading onto the deck and sit motionless in the cool darkness.

The bullfrog chorus at the pond rings out rhythmically until the first hint of dawn, when the croaking grows sleepy and irregular and is joined by the soft, tentative chirping of the early songbirds. As the sky goes from a dark inky gray to lavender to pink, the songbird divertimento crescendos, peaking as the rays of the sun break over the treetops. They are joined by the twittering of red-tailed wrens and house martins, and the oaks and maples come alive with the motion of their feathered residents.

Mating pairs swoop and soar, diving low at my feet before chasing one another in upward spirals around tree trunks; curious young birds alight next to me and wonder at what manner of creature I am, luxuriating in the morning breeze.

The distinctive chirping of the cardinals is followed by the raucous bickering of the jays, and the tranquil spell is broken. I soak in the warmth of the sun for a few minutes more and, looking to heaven, give thanks for this beautiful gift to the world that is new every morning, bright as the dawn and just as fleeting: life.

No wonder the ancient sages called this transition from darkness to light the Ambrosial Hours! They are truly nectar to my soul, poured out afresh every morning like the dew drops that quench the green world around me.

It is altogether too easy to lose this sense of peace as I go through the rest of the day with its demands and flurries of activity, but then I spy banks of yellow coreopsis by the roadside--little treasures scattered about by the Creator. They call this creation back to relationship, peace, stillness and a sense of interconnectedness by the nodding of their flowered heads: "Good morning, sunshine!" Whether it is morning, noon or late in the afternoon, I smile back and thank them for reminding me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Trash or Treasure?

A 2007 United States Census Bureau report listed Mississippi as the poorest state in the Nation. It definitely isn't the most popular one; between 2000 and 2005, there was a net migration of a mere 75 people into the state.

We do have some sad statistics:

-Per capita personal income in 2006 was the lowest of any state in the U.S.
-For three years in a row, over 30 percent of Mississippians have been classified as obese.
-22.8 percent of its children were also classified as obese.
-In 2004, Mississippi was ranked last among the fifty states in academic achievement by the American Legislative Exchange Council's Report Card on Education
-Mississippi has the lowest average ACT scores and spending per pupil in the nation.

We also have some goofy, backward, amusing and downright strange laws on the books:

-Cattle rustling is still punishable by hanging, pard'ner.
-Private citizens may personally arrest any person that disturbs a church service.
-No turtle races may be held at the airport.
-Mississippi was the last state to repeal Prohibition of alcohol.
-As a result, we have more "dry" counties than any state
-Some counties allow the sale of beer, but only if it's unrefrigerated (you can have your beer, Homer, but you ain't gettin' it cold!)

Because of things like this, and because of the state's complex history, most people have some very strong, negative pre-conceived ideas about Mississippi.

Amazingly enough, those who come and visit anyhow usually change their minds. I recently stopped into Taylor's Food Store for a cup of coffee and a chat. As I headed back to the deli counter, I saw Mr. Sonny talking to a tall man in bicycle shorts and a dayglo yellow windbreaker--not standard attire for these parts. Turns out he is a native Californian who, at the age of 63, was in the midst of his third cross-country bicycle tour. He had first driven from coast to coast in the northern states, then the central ones; due to learned prejudice and preconceived notions, he had saved the southern route for last.

We asked him for his impressions, and he was genuinely pleasantly surprised at the sincerity, kindness, and helpfulness of Mississippians. He could actually picture leaving his home in the beautiful Napa Valley and living in rural Mississippi, he said. One of the younger locals gathered around couldn't quite believe that statement until several of the rest of us piped up and admitted that we, too, had once been passers-through and have since become transplants, thriving in the local soil and climate of hospitality. We all agreed that you couldn't pay us any sum of money to live anywhere else in the world.

Mississippi may have its shameful statistics, but it has some pretty amazing things to be proud of, too:

-The state has the nation's lowest living costs.
-In spite of having the lowest per capita income, Mississippians consistently rank as one of the highest per capita in charitable contributions.
-Mississippi was the first state to pass a Married Women's Property Act.
-Mississippi has elected more African-American officials than any other state in the United States.
-In 1936 a Mississippi doctor performed the first bone pinning in the United States. This led to the development of the "Rush Pin", which is still in use.
-The first human lung transplant was performed in 1963 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi.
-In 1964, the first heart transplant was also performed at UMMC.
-The world-renowned USA International Ballet Competition takes place in Jackson every four years.

Culturally, Mississippi has so rich a heritage!

Mississippi has generated rich, quintessentially American music traditions: gospel music, country music, jazz, blues, and rock and roll were all invented, promulgated, or heavily developed by Mississippi musicians.

The Delta region has been historically significant in the development of the blues, producing such greats as: Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Willie Brown, Big Joe Williams, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and B.B. King. The state also played a significant role in the integration of American music. Its musicians combined musical traditions from Africa with the musical traditions of white Southerners, which were largely rooted in Celtic music, to create Creole music.

Mississippi's complex history has inspired great storytellers. Award-winning authors native to or associated with the state include William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Ellen Douglas, Willie Morris, Shelby Foote, Margaret Walker Alexander, Ellen Gilchrist, Alice Walker, John Grisham, and James Autry.

Come on down and find out why it's called the Hospitality State, and savour some of the rich traditions that make up the best of Mississippi. It sure isn't what you thought it was, and you might even stay a while...