Monday, July 28, 2008

A "Soggy Homecoming" Revisited ...

This is a follow up to my "Soggy Homecoming" post dated June 30th. As you may or may not recall, my husband and I returned from a pleasant weekend trip to New Orleans, and were greeted by a soggy ceiling in our dining room.

It seems that condensation from our air conditioning unit, which is in the attic, filled the drip pan, which in turn overflowed and soaked the ceiling in the dining room. Evidently, water dripped from the ceiling all weekend while we were gone and soaked part of the oriental rug and the pad underneath it.

NOT a pleasant thing to come home to after a fun trip to New Orleans, but I guess it could have been a lot worse. At least the furniture and dining room chairs didn't get wet.

Remember that this was on June 30th, almost a month ago, and since then, we've had the air conditioner repaired and the rug picked up, dried, and cleaned.

We also discovered, not surprisingly, that it's almost impossible to find someone to do a relatively small repair job like this one (small to a contractor, but major to me). We were impressed with the first guy who came to look at it and eagerly waited for him to "call back with an estimate." After waiting three or four days, I called and left a message on his voice mail, asking if he had had time to get the price together, with no reply from him. A couple of days after that, my husband called and left a message, again with no reply. Then, the following week, I left a message asking him to please let us know if he wasn't interested in doing the work so we could contact someone else ... AGAIN, no reply.

I can understand a busy contractor not wanting to tackle a small job when he has several large ones going on, but there's just no excuse for him not calling us back and being honest about it. And to top it off, the second guy who came did the exact same thing!

In my opinion, not only is that no way to run a business, it also shows a lack of respect for potential customers and a lack of just "plain old good manners."

Fortunately, though, it looks as if our contractor story is going to have a happy ending. A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor whose husband builds houses gave us the name of a contractor they highly recommend. I called him and he immediately came by and gave us an estimate right then, which we accepted.

He said he would be here at 7:00 a.m., this morning, and at 7:00, on the dot, he and his crew arrived and immediately went to work.

This is my dining room before the damage occurred ...

This is the way it looked when they got here this morning (we pushed all the furniture out of the way and I covered the chandelier with plastic bags) ...

They covered the floor with drop cloths, covered the furniture with new plastic cloths, and taped new plastic cloths over the openings leading to the rest of the house. So far, so good ...

And, bless their hearts, they even vacuumed and cleaned up their mess before they left for lunch. That, along with the NEW plastic, really made an impression on me.

The contractor just finished applying the "mud" to the sheet rock and will be back later this afternoon to "skim" it, which means that he will apply a thin coat of plaster, as I understand it.

I won't bore or depress you with any more of these ugly "in progress" pictures. Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, they should be finished by Thursday, and I can put my dining room back together before the weekend.

I think every cloud has a silver lining, and I guess the silver lining from this "cloud" is that the next time we need a contractor, we'll know who to call to get the job done professionally and efficiently.

It's just really disheartening, though, that it's so difficult to find professionals these days, in any field, who take pride in their work and do what they say they're going to do.

"Happy Hour" Nachos

Nachos are one of our favorite snacks when we have weekend company, and we also enjoy them while watching SEC football in the fall. I made them this past weekend and they looked so pretty, I took some pictures so I could share them with you.

They're so easy to make ...

Just break up some Tostitos chips on a cookie sheet, cover with a generous amount of chili (I heat the chili to make it easier to spread); add a generous layer of chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, jalapeno pepper slices, and any other condiments you'd like, and sprinkle lots of shredded cheese on top (I use cheddar, but you can use any kind of cheese).

I set the oven on "broil" and leave the nachos in just long enough to melt the cheese until it's bubbly.

Serve hot with your favorite drinks (mine is Dr. Pepper) ... and it just doesn't get any easier or better than that!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Life in "Small Town, America"

I feel very blessed to have grown up in a small southern town back in the days when ...

... children could walk to neighborhood schools without their parents having to worry about them.

... families sat down to dinner together and
shared their day with each other.

... teenagers, at least the ones I knew, had curfews and rules and didn't even think about questioning them.

... movies left something to the imagination, and our heroes were Roy Rogers and Doris Day (I'm probably dating myself!).

... music was something you listened to
for relaxation, or danced to ...
and didn't have lyrics that instilled violence and hatred.

I don't think that today's "Small Towns, America" will ever be able to achieve the "innocence" and freedom of the ones of my childhood, but it does your heart good to drive the backroads of this beautiful country of ours and see these little towns --and the people who live in them, raising their families in an atmosphere of values and morals reminiscent of the "Small Towns, America" of long ago.

It's a shame that so many of these towns have almost disappeared, just because they were not conveniently located near an interstate highway ... or were in the way of men and their machines razing buildings and cutting down trees, all in the name of progress.

It saddens me to see new "super" discount stores or shopping malls replacing the corner drugstores and family-owned businesses in small towns. Drive through any small town and you will see vacant buildings in various stages of disrepair, with the names of former businesses faded or worn away by time. I can't help but wonder what happened to the people who made a living from those businesses.

On a more positive note, many small towns have revived their old downtown and historic areas, offering upscale restaurants, antique and gift shops, and art galleries. Some have spring and fall festivals and holiday celebrations which bring thousands of visitors to town.

In closing, I'd like to suggest that the next time you are traveling on an interstate highway, consider getting off at the nearest exit and traveling a few miles on the "backroads." I think you will be amazed at how much you've missed!

And, if you just happen to be traveling in Mississippi ... you might enjoy visiting some of our small towns. I know you'll be impressed by their charm and the gracious hospitality you'll receive.

Here are a few of my favorite places in Mississippi:

Greenwood (Home of Viking Range Corporation)
Yazoo City (Home of Willie Morris)
Oxford (Home of William Faulkner), and
Holly Springs (Home of Fox News Anchor Shep Smith)


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another Trash to Treasure Story ...

I love old prints and lithographs, especially in frames without glass, and this one caught my eye in a "junk shop" next door to our cleaners.

It had water spots and scratches and was covered with grime, but I love the picture and the frame was in good condition, so I asked the shop owner if he would take $5.00 for it. He said he would today, and I started to ask him if he'd take $2.00 for it tomorrow, but I didn't.

I gave him my $5.00, and brought it home, cleaned it, then wiped the print and the frame with Old English Scratch Cover for Dark Wood. I'm pleased with the way it turned out and here it is in its new home (one of our guest bedrooms) ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words ...

This is a follow up to my "Sharing Simple Pleasures with a Granddaughter" post. I promised a picture of Avery Grace the first time she saw our Morning Glories in full bloom.

Well, here she is early Sunday morning still in her nightgown ...

And that made all that watering and watching and waiting worthwhile.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Friday Morning "Before and After" Project ...

This rusty rooster weather vane has been sitting on that pedestal in my back flowerbed for months, and the more I looked at it, the less I liked the pedestal. The natural finish of the stone was just too light for the rustic rooster.

Well, today is the day I decided to "fix it," so I got out my Minwax "Mahogany" Stain, a pair of disposable gloves, and a roll of paper towels and went to work right there in the flower bed.

After dabbing ... and rubbing ... and dabbing some more, this is what it looks like now ...

I like the "after" look so much better, and it's a good thing, because there's no way I can get that stain off !

Best wishes to you for a happy and cool weekend!


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sharing Simple Pleasures with a Granddaughter ...

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we lose sight of simple little things in life that give us pleasure. A lot of things give us pleasure, such as a new car, or boat, or new clothes ... but I'm not talking about things. I'm talking about simple pleasures ... like rocking your grandbaby.

Our three-year old granddaughter Avery Grace has almost outgrown my lap, but I dearly love rocking her in the creaky old rocking chair that I rocked her mama in when she was a baby. I cherish our "rocking times" and guess I'll go on rocking her as long as she'll let me, no matter how big she gets.

I also love cooking with her. She's like a little sponge and her eyes just light up when I say, "Let's make cookies!" or "I need some help making potato salad," which she loves. Recently, we made a Lemon Pie ...

[If you'd like a delicious and easy Lemon Pie recipe, and would like to see more pictures of Avery making ours, please read my "On Cooking with a Granddaughter" post]

Another Avery-related "simple pleasure" turned out to be not so simple -- growing Morning Glories.

I wanted her to experience the whole process of planting the seeds and watering them and watching them grow. I even bought two packets of seeds, just to be sure some would come up. I also bought her the cutest little gardening gloves and little yellow watering can.

I didn't think we'd ever get all her little fingers in the right fingers of the gloves, but we finally succeeded and I showed her how to "dig" the holes, drop the seeds in, and cover them up. Then we filled her watering can and she gently watered them in.

And then we waited ...
and waited,
and watched,
and watered,
and waited some more ...
and NO Morning Glories.

Well, after about two weeks of watering and waiting and watching, I decided those seeds weren't going to come up, so I bought three more packets and planted them. I know, I know ... I probably shouldn't have done that, but I just couldn't stand for her flowers not to come up!

Every weekend when she came to see us, we would check for sprouts and water some more. Then, lo and behold, one day I saw these little fellas poking through the pine straw ...

Kind of pitiful looking, but at least I had something to show Avery, and I couldn't wait 'til that weekend.

She was so excited when she saw them, and we watered and pulled weeds around them and envisioned a profusion of blooms covering the fence.

We had "high hopes" for them, but I've never seen such slowwwwwwwww-growing Morning Glories. They took their own sweet time, but, after a while, they had little tendrils reaching out for something to cling to. We went to Home Depot and bought a trellis for them to climb, and every weekend Avery checked to see how much they had grown during the week.

Finally, our high hopes paid off -- we had a Morning Glory!

Again, I had to wait 'til the weekend to show it to Avery, but she was delighted and called her mama, granddaddy, and her great-grandparents (my parents), outside to see the Morning "Gwo-ey" (Avery-talk for "Glory").

I'm going to have my camera handy when I show them to her this weekend, because, at last, I think you can say we have a "profusion of Morning Glories" ...

I'll post a picture next week of Avery when she sees the blooms for the first time. I can just see her little face light up ... and that's always a pleasure for her Grandmama.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Story of the Ruins of Windsor ...

[You can click on the pictures to enlarge them]

My husband and I recently visited one of Mississippi's greatest historical icons, "The Windsor Ruins." Before I share my personal visit to the Ruins and my photographs, I'd like to give a brief history of Windsor.

The story of "The Ruins of Windsor" begins with the birth of Smith Coffee Daniell, II, in Mississippi in 1826, the son of an Indian fighter turned farmer and wealthy landowner. Daniell owned 21,000 acres in Mississippi and Louisiana. In 1849, he married his cousin Catherine Freeland (1830-1903), and they had three children.

In 1859, the couple started construction of Windsor, the largest antebellum Greek Revival mansion built in the state of Mississippi. Windsor Plantation, about 12 miles southwest of Port Gibson in Claiborne County, covered over 2,600 acres and overlooked the Mississippi River in the distance.

From the elaborate furnishings, to the wrought iron staircase, the four story home was designed to reflect the height of Southern life at the time. It is said that Mark Twain compared Windsor to a college instead of a residence, due to its size.

It was built for $175,000 (not a small sum at the time), which included the actual construction cost and its furnishings (today's cost would be approximately 3.5 million dollars).

Windsor's basic style was Greek Revival, with added details borrowed from the Italianate and Gothic styles of architecture. It had twenty-three rooms with twenty-three fireplaces, and an above-level basement containing a school room, dairy, and supply rooms. Tanks in the attic supplied water for the interior baths. The ell-shaped extension on the east side, attached to a single row of columns extending from the main square, contained the kitchen, pantry, and dining room.

Construction was completed in 1861, and sadly, Smith Daniell only lived in the mansion for a few weeks before he died at the age of 34. His wife and children continued to live at Windsor, but were left to suffer the loss of much of the family's holdings.

During the Civil War, Windsor was used by by both Union and Confederate troops. From the roof observatory, signal equipment was used to signal Confederate troops of Yankee advances, and a Yankee soldier was shot in the front doorway of the home.

Windsor was also used as a Union hospital and observation post, which is most likely the reason it was spared from being burned by the Union troops.

In 1991, historians discovered this drawing by Henry Otis Dwight, an officer in the 20th Ohio Infantry, which he made while his unit was encamped on the grounds of the home ...

This drawing is the only known depiction of what Windsor actually looked like after it was completed.

After the war, Windsor continued to be used for social gatherings in the area. Mark Twain stayed at the home and is said to have used the roof observatory to observe the Mississippi River. He wrote of its elegance in Life on the Mississippi.

On February 17, 1890, a guest accidentally dropped a cigarette in debris left by carpenters making repairs to the third floor, and Windsor was consumed by fire. The only remnants were 23 of the 29 columns, a few pieces of china, and a set of wrought iron stairs and portions of the balustrade. The stairs and balustrade are now used at Alcorn State University's chapel which is nearby.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 23, 1971, the Ruins are maintained by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Descendants of the Daniell family donated Windsor Ruins to the State of Mississippi in 1974.

On July 13, 2008, a hot Sunday afternoon, my husband and I traveled to Windsor, which is located about 11 miles southwest of Port Gibson, Mississippi.

At the end of a rural gravel lane off Mississippi Hwy. 552, the 23 elegant 45-foot tall Corinthian columns stand proudly and defiantly, as if they rose from the ashes as a reminder of Windsor's glorious existence.

The only word that sufficiently describes the Ruins is magnificent. As defined in Webster's, magnificent means "marked by stately grandeur and lavishness; sumptuous in structure and adornment; impressive to the mind or spirit" ... and The Windsor Ruins are, indeed, all of that and more.

It is mind-boggling to me to try to imagine building a house like Windsor almost 150 years ago. Basic construction of the house was done by slave labor. The bricks for use in the 45-foot columns were made in a kiln across the road from the house.

The columns were then covered with mortar and plaster. The columns supported the projecting roof line with its plain, broad frieze and molded cornice. This provided protection for the galleries that encompassed the house at the second and third levels. The fluted columns had ornate iron Corinthian capitals and were joined at the galleries by a beautiful ornamental iron balustrade, remnants of which you can see in the pictures.

Skilled carpenters were brought in from New England for the finished woodwork. The iron stairs, column capitals, and balustrades were manufactured in St. Louis and shipped down the Mississippi River to the Port of Bruinsburg several miles west of Windsor.

All of that sounds pretty straight-forward and simple, doesn't it? But if you look at my pictures you will realize there was nothing "simple" about the construction of Windsor.

Just the brickwork alone involved in constructing one of the columns would have been a daunting task.

Then, plaster and mortar were applied over the bricks, and the fluting effect was done.

If you think about it, each column was a work of art created by master craftsmen ... and they built 29 of them!

And speaking of works of art ... just look at the elaborate detailing of the iron Corinthian capitals atop each column, and the iron balustrades which connected the columns.

It was an eerie and almost reverent experience to walk the grounds surrounding Windsor, and to see the huge old walnut trees that were there over 100 years ago. Perhaps Henry Otis Dwight leaned up against this one as he made his sketch of Windsor, unaware of the significant role it would play in the history of Windsor ...

This walnut tree is at the back corner near the crumbling brick fireplace ...

This old oak stands like a sentry across the road from the lane leading to the Ruins. If only trees could talk ...

After withstanding almost 150 years of winds and rains, and hot, humid Mississippi summers, the beautiful vine-covered Ruins of Windsor still stand proud, seemingly determined to endure as a memorial to Smith Coffee Daniell, II, and his Windsor ... the glorious house which once stood in their shadows.

I wonder how many of the mansions of today will still be standing 150 years from now.

I hope you enjoyed my story about the Windsor Ruins." My next post will include photographs I took of a few stops we made after our visit to Windsor. I hope you will join me for that tour.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Town Called Yazoo City -- Part 2

To continue my previous post, "A Town Called Yazoo City, Part 1," I'd like to share with you the rest of my reflections on and photos of the sleepy little Mississippi Delta town of Yazoo City.

After photographing the downtown area, I visited a couple of shops, one of which is right on Main Street.

Grace Hardware and Knutty Knitters share space in an old building which was once called Saxton Hardware.

I didn't really know what to expect, but when I stepped inside the door I realized that Grace's is not your typical hardware store. Every nook and cranny is crammed with furniture, hand knitted items, art in mediums such as acrylics, oils, and watercolors, and pottery, frames, and accessories.

And tucked into a corner on the left side of the store is "Knutty Knitters" (don't you just love that name!) ...

She offers an exceptional inventory of quality yarns and knitting supplies and they're displayed beautifully on the old shelves. There's even a neat old library ladder to reach the top shelves (I would love to have one of those in my kitchen).

After leaving Grace's, I walked across the street looking forward to browsing in these two antique shops ...

There's just something about the words Estate Sale, that make my heart skip a beat, and I was so disappointed to see the "Closed" sign on the door.

The other one had an "Open" sign on it, so I thought, "Oh, well, at least I'll get to go in this one." WRONG! ... I pulled on the door to find it locked and peered inside and no one was there. I just hate it when that happens, don't you?

As I was leaving the downtown area, I remembered from a past visit another unusual place -- Gilbert's Lumber & Home Center ...

When you walk in the door, you are greeted by the usual stuff you'd expect to find at a lumber company, like shovel and hoe handles, post hole diggers, and garden tools ...

But once you get past all that stuff, you'll discover a treasure trove of unique home decor accessories, quality kitchenware and linens, fine pewter ware, and a wonderful selection of Vera Bradley accessories, including clothing, which I've never seen ...

I just loved these glass trays, and would you believe I stood there happily clicking away with my camera and didn't buy one!

Later, as I was editing my pictures of them, I thought, "You idiot! Why didn't you buy one of those cute "Pig Out" trays and at least try on some of those pretty Vera Bradley clothes!" I may have to go back to Yazoo City soon (and hopefully on a day when the antique shop is really OPEN).

After leaving Gilbert's, I had had my fill of shopping and decided to explore one of the residential areas where some of the older homes are found.

I love those huge old magnolia trees in the front yard of this "homey-looking" house ...

And this one exemplifies the spirit of "southern hospitality" ...

I saved the most exciting stop (to me, anyway) for last -- Yazoo City's renown Glenwood Cemetery.

Established in 1856, the cemetery is "home" to two of Yazoo City's most famous legends and legacies -- renown Southern writer Willie Morris and the notorious "Witch of Yazoo," whose story I will share below.

I could write volumes on Willie Morris, but for brevity's sake, I'd like to just give you a little background on him.

William Weaks "Willie" Morris, was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on November 29, 1934. When Willie was six months old, his family moved to Yazoo City, which he immortalized in his works of prose. Morris's trademark was his lyrical prose style and reflections on the American South, particularly the Mississippi Delta.

He was a Rhodes Scholar, and in 1967, he became the youngest editor of Harper's Magazine. He wrote several works of fiction and non-fiction, including My Dog Skip, Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood, The Last of the Southern Girls, Homecomings, and North Toward Home.

Morris was, indeed, a "good old boy," and was admired, respected, and loved by readers from all walks of life, as well as his peers. He died of a heart attack on August 2, 1999, and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Yazoo City, exactly 13 steps (the unlucky number) from the "grave" of the fictitious Witch of Yazoo, a character from one of his books, Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood.

This is a photo of Mr. Morris's impressive monument ...

I love the inscription on this plaque at the base ...

It reads: "Even across the divide of death, friendship remains an echo forever in the heart." Isn't that beautiful!

After visiting Mr. Morris's grave, I searched for the Witch's "resting place," which wasn't very far away (13 steps, remember?).

As I previously noted, the legend of the "Witch of Yazoo" is detailed in Willie Morris's book, Good Old Boys.

Here is a synopsis for those of you who would like to read it ...

Many years ago there was an old woman living in seclusion along the banks of the Yazoo River. Everyone believed her to be a witch and the good folk of Yazoo City loathed her, for it was rumored that on stormy nights she lured fishermen into her hut, poisoned them and buried their bodies in a densely wooded hillside, nearby. The story goes something like this:

In 1884, Joe Bob Duggett was gliding past her hut on a river raft and heard an ungodly moaning coming from inside. Very carefully he approached the dwelling and through the window spied her cavorting around the bodies of two men.

Joe Bob raced off to town and with the sheriff returned a short time later. Confronted, the old woman ran into the swamp and was pursued by the men who found her trapped in quicksand. "I shall return, " she shouted her warning. "You people never liked me here. I will break out of my grave and burn down the town on May 24, 1904, " And with a gurgle and a retch she sank beneath the muck and mire.

Twenty years later, in 1904, her curse was realized when a fire occurred and almost completely consumed the town. The next day a group of citizens, remembering the witch, visited her grave in Glenwood Cemetery and found, to their astonishment, that a heavy chain that had been wrapped tightly around the crypt as a precaution twenty years earlier had been snapped as if by some supernatural force. Many believed that the Witch of Yazoo had, as promised, returned to wreak vengeance on the townspeople.

Many people think that the entire story is a figment of Morris's imagination, but others quickly point out that the grave in Glenwood Cemetery was there many years before Willie was born, and that the chain has been broken for a long, long, time.

The stone headrest was cracked, but I think you can make out the inscription, and you can see part of the chain at the top of the photo ...

After visiting the "witch," I drove slowly through the cemetery and this beautiful old monument caught my eye. [You may remember my recent post entitled, "In the Arms of the Angels," which featured several old memorials to children who are buried in the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, and I just couldn't pass this one by.]

This sweet memorial honors a three-year-old little girl named Amy, who died January 8, 1883, and it is truly a work of art.

Notice the exquisite detailing in the closeup below. You can even see the texture of her stockings ... and that sweet little hand brought tears to my eyes.

I was excited to discover that this monument was signed and the sculptor was from Vicksburg ...

I think he, or she, may have created some of the beautiful old monuments I featured in my previous posts about Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Well, that ends my tour of "a town called Yazoo City." I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. If you're ever in Mississippi, I hope you will put it on your list of places to visit and experience for yourself its charm and the gracious southern hospitality of its people.