Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Columbus, Mississippi

Now that I've been here three full months...update on Columbus

A Contestant from a previous Stella Shouting Contest
I'm looking forward to the Tennessee Williams 15th Annual Tribute coming up in the first week of September, including the Hollyhocks sponsored "Stella Shouting Contest." When I was first anticipating the humid, languid, hot summer months, here, I had jokingly said that I might soon find myself shouting "Stella!", but looks like someone beat me to it. The thing is, it's a contest held during the tribute, and the contestants stand in front of the Hollyhocks store overlooking 5th Street South, around six o'clock in the evening, and each contestant is judged on volume, originality, and emotion, as he or she (I assume women can now participate) shouts "Stella!" like Marlon Brando does in the movie.

I missed the annual Market Street Festival held this year in May (didn't get here until May 26th), but it has been named a Top 20 Event in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. A crowd of nearly 40,000 gathers each year to enjoy the two-day festival that features over 250 arts, crafts, and food vendors, as well as dozens of special events, musical acts, and other activities.

There are a whole host of festivals and events that I am just now learning about, after three months in Columbus. I've of course already participated in three of the writer's group meetings held at the Columbus Arts Council building in downtown Columbus, but if you're interested in finding a complete schedule of other events, visit this events and festival website.

During my three months, here, I have discovered where I can go for coffee in the middle of the night or before daylight. There are several cool coffee houses, here, as well, and my favorite is The Coffee House on 5th Street. That's the actual name. There are two Thai restaurants, a handful of Chinese restaurants, a few Mexican food restaurants, Southern Diners and BBQ places, close by and fun bars (where I will probably never go), except that Huck's Place is kind of a big bar and restaurant combination on 4th Street. For a city of only 24,000, Columbus has a bunch of great restaurants, an active downtown, lots of Antebellum, Victorian, Italianate, and Craftsman houses, a very cool and history-drenched Friendship Cemetery. I've only driven through part of it, and I was told that the Civil-War-Era portion is in the southern part of the cemetery. Even more delightful, which is what I was hoping for when I moved here is the stunning beauty of parts of Columbus, from well kept neighborhoods, to lush, tree-lined backroads inside and outside of the city, and even the area of town where the shopping centers and big-box stores is located offers the shopping you'd expect to find in a much larger town. Instead of the ubiquitous Barnes and Noble in the local mall, there is a Books-a-Million bookstore, tailored to fit the size of the town, with its own coffee and snack shop. There is a B&N bookstore on the MUW campus.

I've just about made it through the worst part of the year, here in Columbus, and even though I dreaded the muggy summer, it wasn't so bad, and I didn't need to yell "Stella!" even once.

I've solved the comments problem, if you want to leave a comment on any of my posts. Just scroll down and look for the "button" that will say "no comments" (ask me why?! I don't know) but if you click on that you can leave a comment. I hope you do. You can even comment anonymously, as I have done to test the functionality.

Monday, August 29, 2016

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

A Tale of Two Kitties

I couldn't resist this (no doubt) overused opening for this post. But really, though, I think it's the best of times for both Ellie and Mae. The worst of times came, of course when they were spayed and spent the next several days recovering. I'd say they're 98 percent back to their old selves, meaning rambunctious, cute, energetic, loving, and two very combative army girls. They do NOT prefer playing dolls.

Maybe male cats calm down when they're neutered but spaying my little females didn't calm them down, but at least they'll never suffer "heat" and the (perhaps) dubious joy of motherhood. But since this is the tale of two kitties let me tell you some of their differences:

Here's Mae getting in on the
building of the second section
of their cat tunnels
Ellie is the climber and jumper
Mae spends more time on the floor

Ellie meows
Mae purrs

Ellie likes to sleep on my chest
Mae likes to sleep in the crook of my knees

Ellie is petit
Mae is a bit taller (when both girls are on all fours)

Ellie is the first one out the door to the bedroom when I open it to let them out into the rest of the house.
Mae is the first one to examine a new item, unlike Ellie, who is a bit leery of something new, especially if it is big, like the cat tunnels I made yesterday.

And while there are differences in the two kitties, they're sometimes indistinguishable to me in other ways. Their markings are remarkably similar with bits of differences that I still have to check to know which girl I'm dealing with.

Did I mention that they're both cute?

You can barely see Mae
inside the tunnel, but her
eyes are lit by the camera light.
Now this is the first tunnel I made, and my idea was to place another tunnel at right angles to this one, so that they would have to negotiate a turn before they could emerge from the other side. But I've never been much of an engineer. I didn't do very well on the aptitude test the Air Force administered when I joined up, on those items where you had to decide what an object would look like once it was folded up. You were only given a drawing of the flat object with lines showing where it would be folded. So I'm still working on the corner. I did build another tunnel, and when I set them side-by-side, the girls run through one and immediately turn and run through the other.

Forgive me if I dote. When I decided to adopt a cat and I saw these two kittens, they were like bookends, and I knew I couldn't just take one of them. There are times when I would be less distracted if I didn't have either kitten. I could work longer times at the computer. I could take a shower without first having to put the girls into prison in what I call the romper room, where they can look out the windows. But I knew I could never separate them, and so I took both, because they need each other. That way I can be gone from home for hours at a time and they will not be lonely. I have no idea what will happen when they're bigger than me and can push me around if they choose to. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Taking Care of Ellie-Mae (my twin calico kittens)

The trauma of getting the girls spayed...

The girls are now five months and some days old and it was almost overdue for them to be spayed before they came into puberty. They were only a handful when I brought them with me from New Mexico in late May 2016, but they grew fast and got their shots and were becoming arms full by the time I stuffed them, a little tightly, into the second carrier I had bought because it was larger than the first one. They had outgrown their first carrier and when they are fully grown (so fast, so fast) I'm sure I will have to take them to the vet in separate carriers.

They are a lot bigger than this, now.
But it was time to spay them. Prior to getting their shots and setting up an appointment for their spay, I asked neighbors about vets.My neighbor down the street (Sharon, a wealth of knowledge) recommended two vets. I chose one that was closer to home and more direct. She did say that she thought all the vets in town were good. When I took the girls in for their shots, I was pleased with the staff and the vet herself, and so when I took the girls for their spay, I felt they were in good hands. This is the vet where the military people take their pets, also because the Air Force Base is just a few more miles north of this vet's office.

I took the girls in on Monday, August 22, at 7:30 a.m., and I was able to pick them up after 3:30. And so began a long afternoon, night, and part of the next day when the girls were recovering. They sure slept a lot, and even though in prior posts I have said how it's difficult for me to write and work on my computer at home, I missed them doing that. Now they were zombies. I missed their rambunctious behavior (like walking over the keyboard and sitting on the computer mouse, or blocking my view of the screen because they actually watch the little "bug" that crawls on screen as I move the mouse). I missed them as they slept and sounded like old people recovering from the trachea stress from the anesthesia.

Another shot of the beautiful MUW campus buildings.
But now that it's early afternoon, they've finally started to eat again, but bless them, even in their drunken, drugged state when I first brought them home, they used their "bathroom" facilities like real troopers, even though they had to stagger in there to do it. 

This post is more about me and my little girls than it is about Mississippi, but I do have to say that I'm pleased with the medical facilities for pets, here in Columbus. I'm pleased that my neighbors are accessible for advice and recommendations. I'm pleased with my old house, now 111 years old and still turnkey. I've been blessed with an AC system that works well; otherwise, these summer months with high humidity would probably have been unbearable. But I'm looking forward to the fall and the ability to work longer hours in the yard and to tackle the chaos of roots that run underground in every square inch of the yard, like Medusa's head of snakes. Alas, even when my girls recover and are full-tilt rambunctious again, they will not be able to go into the yard. This is Mississippi, after all, and every kind of insect, including fleas and ticks and mosquitoes, are too much to protect the girls from.

Here's an un-narrated video of Columbus, Mississippi. Now that I've lived here awhile, I recognize so many of these scenes...

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mississippi Pre-dawn

Like the Silver Robin Out and About before Dawn in Columbus, Mississippi

The Silver Robin is a children's book I read in grade school well over fifty years ago, and it reminds me of the discoveries I made today when I left the house around 4:30 a.m. The silver robin in the story is an adventurous young bird, and he decided that he wanted to get up during the night and see what it was like. As we all know, robins are daylight birds and go to bed at sunset. So the night world was a whole different experience for the silver robin, as well as for me in pre-dawn Columbus, Mississippi.

That's how I felt this morning. I really got up at 3:30 a.m., because...Ellie-Mae (my five-month-old calico twin-sister kittens). I showered, dressed, and left the house. It was dark out, sultry from the humidity. The sky was socked in with heavy clouds. The streets were almost empty, except for others of us out at this time. My neighbor, Sharon, just two houses down was already out with her dog when I passed by. I passed through traffic lights on my way to the local MacDonald's, where I hoped they had places where I could plug in my laptop. They didn't. But I stayed anyway and settled down with a cup of coffee and worked on one of my book manuscripts. It's amazing how fresh the mind is in the early morning.

The large plate-glass windows were beaded with moisture like a glass of iced, Southern sweet tea on a summer's day; this is a phenomena one doesn't see in the desert on a summer morning. I liked the feel of the air: moist, sultry, enfolding.

Another thing I prefer to do away from the house (because...Ellie-Mae) is read the printout of my current work, where I can sit and red line the manuscript in peace and quiet. I can and sometimes do put the girls in the master bedroom/bath, so I can work on my home computer in peace, but I soon feel guilty. So the solution for me is to go somewhere in town. At 4:30 a.m. that would be MacDonald's, the Waffle House, Huddle House, or perhaps Hardees.

Out and about in the predawn was a good time for contemplation of the coming day and projects I'm currently working on. I'm simultaneously preparing three manuscripts for publication. They're the last three books in my Common Threads in the Life series, titled A Summer's Change, Book I: The Runaway, A Summer's Change, Book II: A Season of Family, and A Summer's Change, Book III: The Rest of Their Lives. So I contemplated the three cover graphics the artist had sent me, and I'm excited about getting them ready for the e-book debut in just a few weeks. I thought about the ongoing work my house needs--mainly to the outside, like the underground jungle of roots and nodes that must be dug up. I'm working on the two flower beds in front of the house, which are currently in a chaos of growth. I now see why people here usually just cut back the branches and bushes, rather than trying to eradicate them by digging up the roots (silly me).

When I left MacDonald's, the dawn was imminent, and I drove reluctantly to Walmart, where I needed to get some items. Even at this hour, there were customers, so there are more silver robins than I thought.

After I took my purchases home, I visited the local farmer's market. The air was cool and wet and felt good, different from the often icy desert dawn, even in the summer. I bought homemade blackberry jam, peach fried pies, and farm fresh ham slices which I will cook up later, along with my potato-cheese soup.

Finally, at 8:30, the Coffee Shop on 5th opened and I set up my laptop. It's a new experience, getting used to how this PC works, since I've used a Mac almost exclusively for the past 25 years. At least in the coffee shop, I don't have my kittens climbing up my leg and getting in front of the computer screen, or better yet pulling the flat-screen monitor over as they attempt to climb up on that. Oh well...they won't be kittens forever, so I need to enjoy their exuberance while it lasts.

The predawn does present a different edge to the world, and again in the summer with the high humidity, it was like leaving the house with a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders, one that I readily tossed off when I returned home to my girls; I turned the AC down to 74 for a little of that icy feel one can get during a predawn desert morning.

I finally configured this blog so that readers can comment. Check out the comments, below and if you have a reaction to any post, please feel free to let me know.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part II

The Book Club Meeting and My Thoughts...

I had to drive somewhat on the outskirts of Hattiesburg to find the book club meeting place, which was being held in the Joshua Generation MCC location. It was in a strip shopping center in another development, not sure whether it was a separate town or just a subdivision.

Anyway by two o'clock when the meeting was to begin, it was truly hot and humid, one of those August days that I'd heard about, effectively feeling like triple digit heat, so hot it was hard to draw a breath, and if it had been the kind of dry heat in the triple digits in Phoenix, Arizona, runways would be soft and lift would be nearly impossible, given how light the air would be, say if the temps were close to 120 degrees. But here, just outside of Hattiesburg, the air was hot and heavy with humidity, but at the same time the sun was searing on my skin.

There were cars in the strip shopping center parking lot, and when I saw the Joshua Center sign, I saw that cars were clustered around that entrance. The MCC was having some sort of mid-afternoon get together when I walked in, and I was shown where the book club meeting was going on.

I do have to say that I didn't know if the turnout for the meeting was going to be heavy (around thirty people) or light (no more than a half-dozen. It was the latter, but the people had come with written questions and places marked in their copy of Common Sons that they wanted to read aloud and comment on. I didn't want to be the focus of the meeting, however, I wanted the club members' focus on the book, to see what they thought. After all, Common Sons had been in print for twenty-seven years by this time, in it's fourth edition.

Now, this is where the religious sub-culture of the south and particularly the Mississippi religious sub-culture is important. The Common Threads in the Life series, of which Common Sons is the first book is also heavy in the religious theme, considering that one of the main characters is a preacher's son, with a fundamentalist, Southern-Baptist type preacher-father. So I figured that the religion aspect and how LGBT people in the South had to deal with their religions would be relevant in their reading of Common Sons.

This is the Governor of Mississippi
who eagerly signed the recent
unconstitutional "religious freedom"
bill, HB1523, which was promptly
shut down by a federal court.
I was right. The undertone was that religion played a big part in the lives of the readers, but it did in my life, as well. Southern Baptists on my mother's side and Church of Christ (non-affiliated) on my father's side. The discussion was lively, and one reader admitted that the main character was a kind of fantasy character, when I asked if anything bothered the group about the book. Yes, Joel Reece is an "ideal" of mine, a young man who early on has the strength of character to trust his own feelings over the strictures and expectations of the society in which he lives. So this one reader said that, although Joel represented a fantasy, he was still "realistic" in the way I had sketched him and that by the end of the book, the reader had overcome his feeling that Joel was just a fantasy character.

I can't speak for the South. I can't even speak for Mississippi, nor Hattiesburg, nor Columbus, but when I ask people, they tell me that the farther south you go in Mississippi, the more progressive and even liberal the towns and cities become. Columbus doesn't have a Unitarian Universalist church, but I bet Hattiesburg does.

This Sticker is used in
businesses in Mississippi
to indicate that the owners
do not discriminate against
LGBT people.
After all, it does have an MCC, a church organization founded by a gay man quite a few decades ago, now. And the setting of Common Sons was far enough back in time (mid-1960s) that the characters can be expected to be ignorant of what their feelings might represent and have to struggle with them on a much more basic level than young people might have to today. And this novel is relevant to southern readers in particular, precisely because the struggles that the preacher's son had to go through are still representative of what LGBT people have to go through in a predominantly religious culture in Mississippi. As I indicated when I initiated this blog, I'm only going to write about the positive aspects of my experiences in Mississippi. We all know the negatives, including that the Mississippi legislature and executive branch currently have a super-majority Republican base. However, the AG is a Democrat. He decided not to defend HB1523, but he didn't have to, anyway, since it was blocked from becoming law by a federal court.

Also, like the setting in a rural community in Common Sons many of the readers in Mississippi can relate to living in small towns and even coming from farms.

So, the upshot is that the club decided that it would take on the other books in the Common Threads series, and I think the next one will be discussed in December. I hope to attend. It will be a chance to get on the road in a Mississippi winter and see what Hattiesburg is like then.

I included this video, not to indicate that Mississippians themselves are stuck in the past but that the people, and not the politicians, are just fine, at least where I live and apparently south all the way to the coast. A long discussion, then, of how the Republican majority could have been voted in to begin with won't be part of my postcards...Like New Mexico, however, the pendulum swings between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part I

Attending the Book Club Meeting (and finding my way)...

I left Columbus, Mississippi, at 8:30 on Saturday, August 6, for my Hattiesburg, Mississippi, adventure. It was one of those very hot and very humid days we had last week, where the "real feel" according to the smart phone weather said it felt like the triple digits...but I'll get to this in a minute.

Somewhere on I-59 approaching Meridian
When I started out, it was cool-ish and that was good enough for me. In the case of this trip, it was more about what I would see on the way to Hattiesburg, some 180 miles almost due south. It was bright and sunny as I followed my phone's directions to get onto highway 45. And the first part of the trip took me to familiar scenery as I started out going west toward Starkville. Once you leave Columbus, heading west, the land opens up just a bit and you can see down the lush, green highway, the Golden Triangle Regional Airport off to the left, the industrial park, small bodies of water, and meadows. The trees don't close in the road, and as I turned south onto Highway 45, as directed, it stayed this way for the first few miles. The highway was smooth and the countryside to my desert eyes was beautiful. A little farther down the road and small farms came into view on both sides of the highway. I immediately knew when I passed cotton fields, since I grew up on a cotton farm, and this early in August, the cotton was in the latter blooming stage, with their yellow flowers, but not in profusion, and I figured the crops were already forming the cotton bowls, as well. There were also what looked like fields of grain, and cornfields that were already beyond the ripened corn stage. I figure that, while corn takes about 90 days to grow and mature, it is possible to plant at least two crops before the weather turns too cold, if you stagger the planting. Of course, the fields were bordered by trees, and for awhile it was sunny and the sky was mostly clear. I've been delighted having only lived in Mississippi now for a little over two months that there are days and portions of days when the sky is almost cloudless, and people tell me that August is a relatively dry month.

As the miles accumulated under me, the terrain changed, and the land "undulated" rather than forming "rolling hills" as it might in other parts of the country. Of course the distinct difference between anything east of New Mexico and the western half of New Mexico is there were no mountains rising up on the horizon in any direction, but the trees of Mississippi keep it from being boring to the eye, as might be the case in the great plains (at least to me).

Fairly soon, however, the farmland diminished and the trees moved in closer to the highway, and the four-lane highway separated and, as in Louisiana on I-20 out of Shreveport, the medians grew wide and were also filled with trees, so that you couldn't see the oncoming lanes of traffic. There were signs for small towns all along the way, but they were not visible from the highway, and I was on a mission to get to Hattiesburg, anyway, in time to drive around and sight see before it was time to get to the book club meeting. But it was over a two-hour drive, and so I did have to pull off a couple of times to either gas up or take a bathroom break and have a cup of coffee.

I saw the signs for Macon, Mississippi, but I was disappointed to see that the only part of Macon that was visible from the highway were gas stations and a few outlying houses. Macon is where my partner had found a drop-dead gorgeous, 5,000 square-foot Victorian that I would have liked to see, but that part of Macon was hidden by trees, and I didn't even know whether the mass of Macon was on the west side of the highway or the east side, and so I kept on driving.

In my limited knowledge of the terrain of Mississippi, I theorize that the land is flatter and more farming is done on the Mississippi delta side of the state (along the Mississippi River and inland to about the middle of the state). I was driving down along the eastern side of the state, not far from the Alabama border, and I saw signs for towns in Alabama as I drove.

Don't ask me what kinds of trees grow along the highways, but I noticed that as I continued southward, the trees changed from leafy to piney trees. Sorry, that's the best I can do. In the part of New Mexico I'm from, there are pine forests, dotted with aspens, in the higher elevations, but in the desert, you not only know what kind each tree is, but you practically can name each one...that mulberry by the grocery store. That old pine tree that froze out in 2005 at the Papen house. There just aren't that many stands of trees in the desert. But in Mississippi and along the highway there is a large variety of trees, so thick in some places along the highways that you can't even walk through them!

I arrived in Hattiesburg, after traversing Meridian and getting onto Highway 59 south, there. Once again the terrain changed a little more and the land opened up so that I could see a little farther in each direction. And it became somewhat hotter and more humid, but I figured part of that was passing from morning into mid-morning. In all, it was still lush and green as I drifted into the outskirts of Hattiesburg, and once the gps app released me, saying I had "arrived" I found I was on Main street in Hattiesburg.

From there I just winged it as I drove around, always keeping in mind where Main street was. I was a little surprised that Hattiesburg, being a much larger town than Columbus was a bit more rough around the edges in the downtown area. In my last post, I featured a video about the Midtown Hattiesburg development, but I decided it must still be in the planning stages. No doubt there are, as in most other cities, well-developed areas and areas that need to undergo renovation, and the older homes I saw in Hattiesburg in the downtown area were ripe for renovation, but there were lots of old homes that would be stunning once they are renovated. I've always been lucky in unfamiliar cities in stumbling onto just what I was looking for, and when I arrived in Hattiesburg, I was looking for a cafe or coffee shop. I found the Depot Coffee House, right along the railroad tracks near what must have been the bustling center of Hattiesburg when the railroads were the hub of the city. On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part II will continue in the next post...