Friday, July 29, 2016

Getting Ready for my Hattiesburg Adventure

A book club in Hattiesburg will be discussing one of my novels in August, and I have been invited to attend...

Hattiesburg, Mississippi is a lot closer to the gulf coast than Columbus, and on the phone map app, it looks almost like a straight southern shot to Hattiesburg from Columbus, but I have learned that I can depend on two things when it comes to actually driving from place to place in Mississippi: trees will line the highway and the roads will be somewhat curvy. I will only know which direction I'm headed by trying to see the sun in the sky.

I've never liked this cover, because
the story takes place in southern
New Mexico. This looks like an
northern NM mountain town.
But that is beside the point. I'm looking forward to hearing what book club readers have to say about my first novel, Common Sons, which is now twenty-seven years old. It's part of the "Common Threads in the Life" series, which developed as a result of wanting to write a single "sequel" to Common Sons.  If anyone reading this lives in Hattiesburg and wants to check out the book club, here is the address.

I'll be leaving early enough (the drive is almost two hundred miles) so that I can get there and drive around downtown and maybe try to find the historic neighborhoods of Hattiesburg. The town is approaching 50,000 people, with a metro area of over 140,000. In another post I said that Mississippi is really a rural state with only two cities over 50,000 people, but that's apparently not true in the southern part of the state. Also during my research of Hattiesburg, I realized that the bulk of Mississippi's population is in the lower third of the state, which leaves northern Mississippi deliciously under populated. Columbus is in northern Mississippi...but barely. It's also in the Mississippi Hills designated area, but once again, barely.

Hattiesburg is only an hour's drive from Gulfport, and when I go on August 6, I expect to encounter muggier weather than even here in Columbus. It was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina, and is well over the tornado prone average in the U.S. But it continues to grow. It is one of the best places to start a new business.

Hattiesburg is a historic town and the city takes its heritage seriously. There are five historic districts that come with provisions on remodeling and maintenance within those districts.  Once I get really settled, here in Columbus, I have a feeling I will be making the trek to Hattiesburg and the gulf coast, but methinks I will do that mainly during the late fall. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to my trip, coming up in just seven days.

Of course there is a body of water in Hattiesburg. There are bodies of water everywhere, which is one of the reasons I selected Mississippi. I will be writing a postcard titled "On the Road to Hattiesburg" once I get back from my day trip, there.

 If you're interested, its about as far from here to Hattiesburg as it is from Mesilla, New Mexico, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, maybe 50 miles less, so it's doable as a day trip, but I suppose spending the night and driving back the next day would be ideal. I can't do that, though, because I have my girls, Ellie and Mae. I already know they will plow through their cat food in a single day, and they'll be tapping their paws and looking at their iPhone clocks once the day passes into evening!

Part of the reason I am doing these postcards from Mississippi is to help seduce you into considering all that Mississippi has to offer, despite its reputation as a backward and conservative (ultra conservative) state. In many ways it is, but in many significant ways it is progressive and the people are friendly. That is one of the expectations I had that has so far not been proven wrong!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mississippi is Dripping with Antique Stores

That's not unusual, though,  since there are antiques all across the country...

While it's true that every part of the country has  a history behind it, some areas of the country are a little more attuned to their past, their historic homes, and the antiques that go in them.

This is an interior shot famous mansion in
Columbus, MS, called Riverview. It's in
the same neighborhood as my house!
My partner is the one who got me interested in old houses and by extension antique furniture, so when I felt I needed a few pieces of furniture to fill in the gaps in a couple of rooms, I decided that I would visit antique stores, first, and if I found something I thought might be nice, I sent him a picture of it, for his opinion. And because of this hunt, I soon found myself discovering just how many antique stores there are in this area of Mississippi, one of the richest in history, as far as antebellum houses and later, Victorian and Craftsman. Columbus was lucky it was not destroyed by Sherman on his march through the South, as he burned whole towns to the ground. Columbus, Mississippi was saved, because it was a hospital town that treated wounded from both the North and the South, and the Union commanders just didn't have the heart to destroy it. This is a story that runs all through Mississippi, however, and because of it, the state has a lot of historic homes—and the antiques to go in them. A good place to start is the Mississippi Antiques Trail website. Sure, there will be stores that are no longer open listed on this site, but I found it extremely useful.

As my finances improve and I continue to get settled into my Victorian Cottage, here are just a few towns within 30 miles or less from Columbus that have antique stores:

Aberdeen, pop. 5,432
Amory, pop.7,107
Caledonia, pop. 1,027
West Point (the Mississippi West Point), pop. 11,093
Starkville, pop. 24,886
Macon (this Mississippi Macon), pop. 2,647

And a fun fact about antique stores is that they usually take you into historic parts of any town. The store owners, of course, go for places where the rent is less costly, so when you're antiquing, you're also treated to areas of town that are old and funky and fun.

Yes, almost every town of any size in any state probably has an antique store, so that's nothing new or unique, but I do think that southerners above all others still hold their historic homes in high regard. They can be renovated to have all the modern features, but  they don't ruin the houses by gutting their glass brick showers in a house that's over 150 years old, no destruction of the winding staircases to replace it with some "hip" and modern metal thingy. A fully restored historic house here is truly like walking back in time, even though it's got new wiring, updated kitchens and bathrooms, and will house flat-screen TVs and Internet services, etc. Even the famous and beautiful Waverly Mansion (daily tours) hides a flatscreen TV in one of the bedrooms occupied by one of the family members)

This is the picture I sent my partner from my phone taken at
the antique store,
which caused him to faint. The medallions are metal with
engraved images.
So, on my second trip to the same antique store where I had bought an antique dining set including four chairs (which were in great shape with a beautiful finish), I found a 1920s/1930s serving cabinet, which turns out to be a Neo-Classical, Post Deco design. I sent a picture of it to my partner. He fainted and then sent me several questions about it and told me what to look for—and then he fainted again when I told him all they wanted was $125.00.

Even modern, brand new homes in the South are often built in classical Southern styles and, hence, real antiques will easily fit into them without appearing to jump out at you at their appearance. And as clever designers know, real plants can be supplemented with fake plants, and the casual eye will never guess. The same can be said of antiques, living side-by-side with new furniture. The only modern piece of furniture I have in my house is my bed.

Cliff Schlothauer, an award-winning designer and home renovator also says that with antiques and old houses, you should avoid keeping the same style of furniture throughout the house, which gives the home an antiseptic look and feel. Instead, you can have an eclectic mix of periods of furniture styles, getting away with adding Chinese antique cabinets with neoclassical furniture. Old paintings, which don't have to be expensive, also add a certain charm to a room.

So part of the fun of following the antiques trail in and around Columbus is finding just the right piece to complement a room with a blank area.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Homes throughout Mississippi

Finding a place to call home, without having to give an arm and a leg...

If you come from a place where property is expensive and you look in a place like Mississippi with a wonderful selection of historic houses, from ante-bellum to Italianate, to Victorian and Craftsman, or even ranch styles from the fifties and sixties, you will be delighted just how far the home-buying dollar will go. This is not to say that everything in Mississippi is inexpensive, but you get a lot more for your dollar, even brand-new homes in the half-million-dollar range when you compare them with what a half-million will buy in places like California.

In researching Mississippi, one of the draws that brought me here was the possibility that I could afford to buy a house on my fixed retirement and SS income. I finally got to use my veteran's home-buying benefits as well. So, in this postcard from Mississippi, I hope to introduce you to some jaw-dropping real estate deals. If you find a house you really like, you should then research the town, and one of the best ways to do that is to use It's one of the most useful starting points to find out about any town in the U.S.

I would dare to say that most home buyers want new, new, new! That's understandable you want a turn-key house. You might be interested in these houses in this post, anyway.

This home was built in 1843 and is located in Columbus, Mississippi for $195,000. It's 3,279 square feet and sits on 3/4 of an acre, and best of all it's a block from downtown. You can find much more about this house (with pictures) at Old House Dreams, and from there, you can also go to the realtor site.

It has 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. Many of the period elements and rustic appeal are still visible in this house, though in other aspects, it is quite modern and comfortable.

This 1921 Italian Renaissance house is located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, just across the Mississippi River from Louisiana. Vicksburg is a historic town and is close to Jackson, Mississippi, the state's capital and largest city. This property is available for $179,900 and is 4,997 square feet. It's located in the historic Cherry Street, one of the most desirable locations in Vicksburg. You won't believe its grandeur and elegance. Few modern houses are as elegant or well built. Again, you can find much more about this house (with pictures) at Old House Dreams, and from there you can jump to the realtor's site. Even if your only a little bit curious, I urge you to click on Old House Dreams for a gander at its interior.

This next Italianate, built in 1876 is located in Senatobia, Mississippi. For highly detailed information about the town of Senatobia, Mississippi visit This house is 2,889 square feet with three bedroom and two baths. I have to admit that part of home ownership, beyond the turn-key modern houses that are not really built to last is working on an old house to bring some of its original charm back. We all know there was the great American whiteout in the 1960s, when women all over America followed the lead of Jackie Kennedy and painted all the original wood-work in these old houses white. This house has a lot of untouched, original elements, however and would make living here a lot more fun and satisfying.

This house is a classical Revival Style built in 1899 and is located in Canton, Mississippi. This house has a soaring entrance and an untouched staircase that will make you feel that you have stepped into an opulent home, and it can be bought for $199,900. At 6,072 square feet, that's only $33/per square foot. A new home in even Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I come from is well over $100 a square foot, and again, you get so much more for your money on a house like this. After all, it has 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. You can view it in more detail, here.

While the houses I have chosen to show, here, are impressive, they are only a fraction of historic homes that are available throughout Mississippi. This post is a hat's off to Old House Dreams and the work that the blogger there does. You can spend hours and hours looking at stunning homes from all over the country, but Mississippi homes hold up very well in comparison to elsewhere. It wasn't really a hard decision for me to decide on hot, humid summers over snow and blizzards and bone-cracking cold in states farther north. Nor are utilities nearly as high to cool down a house than they are to heat them with expensive heating oil in the north!

But another advantage to home ownership in Mississippi, but especially for seniors over age 65, is that you don't even pay property taxes on the first $75,000 of value of your home. I will owe almost zero in property taxes because I paid less than $75,000 for it. While it appraised for a little more than that, it is nothing compared to the high property taxes in the northeastern states or California and other states.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mississippi Nights

A Shift in the Times I'm Awake

One of the pleasures I get from my new life in Mississippi is going out on the porch at night, or maybe close to the end of dusk. Because it is now summer, I'm usually guaranteed that it's going to be syrupy warm. But coming from inside the house, which is cold and crisp, it feels good for a little while to let the sultry warmth soak into my skin, my body. I've only been here for a little more than a month, and yet my skin has gone from dry to something a little more hydrated. The dry patches in my scalp and the spots of dry skin on my arms and back have begun to diminish—I swear it.

Maybe humans are still very close to our water nature. In southern New Mexico, the humidity is rarely above 20% and the sun dries and bleaches everything, including drying up plastic and turning painted surfaces to a powder. In the desert nothing rusts.

This is a typical highway in Mississippi between
moderate sized towns.
I enjoyed going out after the rain on July 5th, because it brought out the frogs that filled the street with a kind of plaintive song, and even though the fireflies are not very numerous, it brought them out to add little streaks of light, not more than a few feet from where I was sitting, recessed in the shadows of the porch, hidden by the greenery. Mine is a quiet stretch of street, but I could hear the occasional left-over fireworks going off on other streets. But it was just quiet, except for the various insects clacking and buzzing, but even those were not overwhelming.

Oh, and as I indicated, I've been staying up later, going to bed sometime after midnight, so when I step outside one last time for the night, I feel that I have the warmth and humidity, the night sounds, the peace all to myself. It's a good time to contemplate things. Did I make the right decision to buy a house in Mississippi of all places, even though those who had never been here advised against it? I do have to take into account Mississippi's reputation and I have to believe the statistics that put this state at the bottom or nearly so in many categories. But that's nothing new to me. New Mexico is also at the bottom of many categories of statistic, but people's uninformed opinions (because they've never been here), the fact that Mississippi is basically a state of small to medium towns, that it is not the economic powerhouse of Alabama, right next door, or Texas two doors to the west—none of this is important when I like what I find here, which I've written about in other posts.

Columbus, Mississippi offers me a lush, warm, friendly environment; nor do I feel stressed from a faster pace, nor enraged fighting through miles of bumper to bumper traffic. Maybe Columbus isn't for young people who are itching to live a fast-paced life, but it's fine for me, and I realize, too, that many of the people in the neighborhood are retirees from somewhere else. And the property here is affordable, as is the cost of living. In my next post I will show you what some of that property looks like and how much it costs. If you're from California, I guarantee that you'll be gob-smacked at what a dollar will still buy—try $134 for electric, sewer, and water and running my AC 24 hours a day.

And later, my partner will be joining me and we'll be reconfiguring our lives for the next phase of living.  I guess that's it. Now I have to go let my two little twin calico kittens out of prison (the master bath and bedroom), so they can run around the rest of the house and wear themselves out before I go to bed. Did I mention that they climb and jump, and inadvertently dig their claws into my tender skin in their exuberance to be up on the bed with me?


Sunday, July 3, 2016

One Month Anniversary, Living in Columbus, Mississippi

Here's Columbus, Mississippi

Downtown Columbus, MS, heading east on Main Street
Living in a place slowly becomes familiar and the ways of getting around town eventually sink in, and places that seemed confusing to get to at first become familiar. But even before I actually saw Columbus for the first time, I had done a great deal of "street view" driving on Google Earth. One thing I noticed even before I got here was a great portion of Columbus has numbered avenues and numbered streets, and you just have to remember that any street or avenue followed by N is north of Main and any street or avenue followed by S is south of main.

This is just one of hundreds of historical houses in
Columbus, Mississippi
The next thing I noticed and read about was that Columbus sits on a bluff, of sorts, which is why it is high above the Tom Bigbee River to the west, and if you take 7th Street N, you soon get into higher rolling hills that are neighborhoods of winding roads and cul-de-sacs, none of which are numbered streets or avenues. Coming from the desert, to me it's like driving into a well maintained park that has become a residential area. If you head out east on Main, it soon levels out a little, and you cross over creeks, full of running water (amazing to me from the desert). Several major highways criss-cross Columbus, and in moments, you can be headed to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to the east, Tupelo to the north, Meridian to the southeast. So even though Columbus is in an "out-of-the-way" place geographically, it really doesn't feel like a small town surrounded by smaller towns. I've already talked about the pocket of big box stores, all seemingly contained in the north-western part of Columbus, so if you want to go to Walmart or Sears, etc. you head up 5th Street N and there you have it.

West of Columbus, just off the downtown is a large soccer complex between downtown and the river. There will soon be an equine center there, as well. A portion of the river close to downtown also has a riverwalk that is nicely kept. On the east side of town is a large park, where people gather for picnics, next to one of the creeks, and it's hilly and green and nice, and as you drive along the east part of Main, you can see runners and others enjoying it.

This is an interior shot of the famous Waverly
Mansion, between Columbus and West Point,
Mississippi. It stood abandoned for 50 years,
and then a family bought it and have spent their
lives slowly renovating it. The tours are
fascinating and the only way this family can
afford to keep up with the maintenance.
I took a drive out east on Main and then turned south onto another nice highway, and I saw that there's an industrial park in that area. Columbus also participates in the Golden Triangle industrial park that is part of the regional airport, with companies like Airbus and Paccar. In the same area as the regional airport is Eastern Mississippi Community College, Golden Triangle Campus. It is the oldest and largest of the community college complexes in the state and services students in the technical fields, getting them ready for the industries that have moved to the area.

The drive between Columbus and Starkville (along the highway where the regional airport and the community college is located) is a modern, clean, and pleasant area. This is all west of the Tom Bigbee River, and the view is a little more open to those who want to see farther than you can along other tree-lined highways. Starkville and home to Mississippi State University is only twenty miles from Columbus, and there you can enjoy big league college sports. When there are major games in town, many people prefer to stay in Columbus, and during those times, Columbus, which is usually busy downtown any night of the week, is especially busy, and you might as well give up on getting into one of the many fine restaurants without a reservation—or go very early.

Hmmm...I sound like a travelogue, but that's what two years of research on this small city has provided me. Now that I've been here a month, I feel an intimacy with Columbus that just continues to grow. Stepping outdoors in the evening when the humidity is higher than the temperature feels like I'm being enclosed in a warm, wet glove and, really, one just has to accept it before it has a kind of womblike (or so I imagine, hahaha) feel. I might be screaming "Stella-a-a-ah!" like Marlon Brando before the summer is over, but I'm taking this one day at a time.