Monday, February 23, 2009

International Tourist Impacts Projected

The Mississippi Development Authority's Division of Tourism held it's annual Governor's Conference on Tourism in Hattiesburg on February 15, 16, & 17. The purpose of the conference is to help tourism professionals keep up to date with travel trends, learn new marketing ideas and strategies, and a myriad of other helpful travel related subjects. One particular session I attended, focused on "The International Market", and I chose this particular session because of the wonderful influx of foreign travel writers that come through Natchez each year. David Nicholson of the UK and Wolfgang Streitberger of Germany, have been bringing European travel writers to the South for nearly a decade, and they work with professional tour planners from around Europe to assist them in putting together travel packages that are appealing and solid.

David began the presentation with some facts and figures, indicating some interesting travel statistics. For instance, Europeans spend an average of $154 per person, per day; they stayed an average of 3.8 nights (in Mississippi), and they come primarily from Ireland, UK, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and France. David pointed out that Europeans like to "collect" states in that, even if they only drive across the corner of Southwestern Georgia, while crossing from Florida into Alabama, it counts as a state they can mark off their list as "having visited". I collect coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, and baseball caps when I travel.

There is a non-stop charter flight that is booked quite frequently, which travels directly between Memphis and Amsterdam. The reason? The King! Yes, after all these years, they are still flocking to Graceland, but it's truly because they have a deep passion for The Blues. The Mississippi Blues Highway is fast becoming a huge draw for Europeans, and as the trail approaches completion, not only will we see that market expand, we'll also see those trips expanded and extended. For now they've limited their time to Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, but, as they are taking longer vacations, and the value of the pound and euro are so strong against the dollar, we will begin to see more and more of those "groups" trickling further down Highway 61, ultimately completing their journey in Natchez. If you happen to be in London in the future, be sure to keep an eye out for those cute little taxi's driving down the wrong side of the street. They're almost completely wrapped in artwork depicting Mississippi scenes, with plastered down the sides, complete with a huge image of B.B. King laid out on the vehicle's roof with Lucille laying across his lap. And, once you step inside and sit down, you'll see Mississippi ads on the two jump seats that fold down for additional passengers.

Group tours from these European markets book well in advance, and even with the present state of the economy, Wolfgang and David both assured us that tour operator action is still going strong and they receive calls from planners and operators daily seeking assistance when planning itineraries. There were 20,000 European visitors to Mississippi in 2008, but both felt as though that number was extremely conservative as it does not account for Europeans who used the internet or other means to book their travel. It would be quite easy to overlook someone who flies into Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, or New Orleans, rents a car, then drive themselves to a variety of pre-selected destinations. There is simply no way to record their movement like you can when these vacations are set up through tour companies. Swedish and Dutch travelers tend to book their travels based on the best price, while Germans and Brits like to travel according to weather. You'll see many more of them during our "off" season, as that's when it's cold, wet, and dreary in their parts of the world; plus, David says they don't like the heat and humidity associated with our summers, and he thinks it has more to do with that than the other.

I'll write again in a few days and tell you about the Asian/Indian position on traveling to America. Sally D.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Arts Funding: Economic Stimulus or Joke?

The National Endowment for the Arts received $50 million in the Economic Stimulus bill. Unfortunately, it's become a joke on right wing blogs and talk radio. Do they think artists don't work? Is building a car intrinsically better than painting a picture? I just don't get it - maybe if a conservative happens to read this, he (I'm sure it will be a he) will enlighten me with a comment.

Let's look at the economic effects of art in Natchez. Many of you know that I was involved in founding ArtsNatchez Inc, a nonprofit with the mission of "promoting the arts in the greater Natchez area". We provide a Gallery where over 30 local artists can display and sell their art. While none of those artists can support themselves on what they earn from ArtsNatchez, it does help to make it possible for them to stay in Natchez and earn a living. Many of those artists came here from New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina. But they stayed because they discovered they could work here. That's a lot of wage earners living in Natchez and spending their money.

But even more important, artists bring money to a community. As I've written about previously (here and here), art is Big Business - and it feeds on itself. The more art a town has, the more money it attracts. Natchez is a growing arts community. In addition to ArtsNatchez, we also have other relatively new businesses - Burns Pottery, Natchez Clay, Natchez Artists Association, Natchez Art & Framing, Southern Interiors - to name a few.

So what does this have to do with the Economic Stimulus Bill? ArtsNatchez is supported entirely by donations from generous local patrons. However, like other nonprofits, we're suffering during this economic crisis, because many of our patrons have been affected. Although ArtsNatchez will probably survive, many art nonprofits will not. When they fail, all those economic benefits will disappear as well.

Fifty million dollars is a drop in the bucket considering the whole package, but this money can enable thousands and thousands of nonprofits all across the country to stay open - and maintain the economic benefits in their communities. This is exactly what the legislation is for. These organizations don't need lots of money, the money is only needed temporarily, and it produces major economic benefits. Fortunately, Congress agreed and kept the money in the package.

Being intimidated by British accents

I'm a Mississippi girl who married an English man and have lived in the UK for almost 20 years.

I've been noticing that Brits are starting to call each other 'Hon' or 'Honey' with abandon. Being a Mississippi girl, I used to be the only person in the UK who called people 'Hon' but now they are all doing it. There is nothing stranger than hearing British people use American slang, especially when they say something is 'way cool' or something similar that they heard from a Simpsons episode. It's just not right.

But just because Brits assume I am stupid because I have a thick Mississippi accent, I have learned to avoid the mistake of assuming that a person with a posh British accent is intelligent. In fact, it can often be the opposite -- the posher the accent, the dumber the person.

Americans, we have to stop being intimidated by their accents. One time I saw Jeffrey Archer (before he became a convicted criminal) intimidating an American interviewer on TV by speaking like he was a member of the Royal Family. (Brits exaggerate their accents when they feel the fear of an American being intimidated, I can tell you.) I was annoyed with her for displaying her Accent Insecurity like that.
Remember, a posh accent does not equal intelligence!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Worst Husband Competition

Which entry do you think wins the Worst Husband Competition?

This one from Ireland?

Or this one from Greece?

Or what about this guy from Scotland?

I vote for the last one from Scotland as the worst husband because he has the temerity to hold hands with his marital donkey.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Incarcerating teenaged mothers

My mother was a social worker and especially loved her job when we lived in Natchez, Mississippi, and she worked in an unwed mothers' home (called Kings' Daughters). It's so interesting to me how times have changed. In those days, parents sent their unmarried teenaged daughters to a maternity home to have the baby so no one would know she'd been pregnant. When the baby was born, the mother would sign adoption papers and the baby was taken away. My mother used to say that the girls who held and cuddled their babies after they were born suffered the most when they gave them up.

Now times have changed so much that these homes for unwed mothers are viewed as prisons for teenagers forced to give up their babies against their will. I saw a website to help women who have been in these types of maternity homes find each other. My mother would have been horrified to see the title of the website:

This is for Women who are searching for others who were incarcerated in the same Maternity Home at the same time.


I found the name of a woman whose mother had been in the home my mother worked in and wrote her. She wrote back:

"I have done some research on the home and have been there a few times. I have letters that my Mother and Grandmother wrote to each other while she stayed there and I can tell you ... my Mom loved your Mother and her help was invaluable. She even had my Grandmother bring her some pecans from home. I tried to find some information on your Mom but didn't have much luck. Maybe you can let me know more about her. Regretfully, I wished I could have found here sooner. Just so you will know, I was not put up for adoption, my Mom, with much prayer and guidance from people like your Mother decided to raise me."

This all happened two weeks after my mother died. She would have loved to have known about this woman but it just happened too late.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why Mississippi Is Always Last and What We Can Do About It

You know how Mississippi is always ranked last in everything good and first in everything bad. It's embarrassing to be the laughing stock of the nation and also infuriating because we know what Mississippi really has to offer. Well, there may be something we can do about this - it's really easy and doesn't cost a thing.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about my solution to the economic crisis. If you read it, you know that increased involvement of women in government leads to economic responsibility and prosperity.

After that post, I got to thinking (always dangerous!) about how Mississippi is ranked last in income and other economic indicators - and wondered how we do relative to other states in women's involvement in government. Guess what? We're last again.

We're one of only four states who has never elected a woman to the U S Senate or U S Congress. The others are Delaware, Iowa, and Vermont, but they beat us on other measures.

We've also never had a female governor, a dubious honor we share with Iowa. Ruth Ann Minner just retired last month as Governor of Delaware, the longest serving female governor in the US. Vermont had one of the first female governors, Madeleine Kunin, the only female governor to serve three terms.

However, Iowa has us beat on other measures. We've only had two women serve in statewide office - Evelyn Gandy and Amy Tuck, while Iowa has had eleven. Iowa also currently has a female Lt Governor, Patty Judge, who is interested in being Governor. So we may soon be the only state that has never had a female governor.

So how's our farm team - the state legislature? Not good. We're ranked 47th in the country in percentage of female legislators. - slightly better than Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Iowa is 28th.

So, we're at the bottom of the country economically - and in terms of females in government. But my theory is that they're related. If we want to get off the bottom of the barrel, we must elect more women.

Electing women is not a Democratic/Republican or liberal/conservative thing - which you can tell by looking at this map. So all of us can get together on this effort to save Mississippi by electing women. Now, a few insecure men may have a problem with this strategy, but real men will realize that women's talents, skills, and opinions need to be represented in our state.

Save Mississippi - Vote for Women!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tidbits from the News

Here are three stories I read today - the first made me laugh, the second made me angry, and the third was just interesting.
  1. Do you know what Twitter is? It is a social networking and microblogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets or twits), which are text based posts of up to 140 characters in length. It is becoming a major source of news. For example, the first news of the plane landing in the Hudson River came from a passenger sending tweets. Today there was a story with the suggested headline: "Loose Twits Sink Shifts". You should read the original story, reported in successive twits, but here is the basic summary. A Virginia state senator was about to switch parties, which would shift control of the Senate. But it was all behind closed doors until it became public knowledge due to someone's tweets, which caused the whole deal to fall apart. I love the headline.
  2. Today President Obama announced his choice for "Drug Czar". Why did this make me angry? First, it was a guy, and I'm getting tired of all these posts going to men. Secondly, the guy is a big city police chief and military veteran. This means Obama is going to continue the "war on drugs" and to treat drug abuse as a crime. We've been doing this for years, and it simply doesn't work. Drug abuse is a health problem - not a criminal one - and until our leaders realize this, we'll never make any progress.
  3. Do you believe in evolution? That depends on your level of education, according to a recent Gallup poll, conducted in honor of Darwin's 200th birthday today. 21% of those with a high school education believe in evolution and 27% do not. The rest (52%) had no opinion - obviously not taught to think. 74% of those with a post graduate degree do and only 11% do not. Those with some college or a college degree fall in between. Whew, I'm sure glad you need a post graduate degree to be a doctor, because I certainly wouldn't want a doctor operating on me who didn't understand that evolution is the basis of all science.

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

"Has the Vatican done something right? Yesterday, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture declared that Darwin's theory and Christian faith were not only compatible, but that Darwin's views could be traced to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinus, The Times of London reports. Ravasi said, 'what we mean by evolution is the world as created by God.'

Organizers of next month's papal backed conference marking the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species also dismissed Intelligent Design, which credits a higher power for the complexities of life, as "poor theology and poor science" and will only discuss it on the fringes of the convention as a "cultural phenomenon." The recent admissions settle speculation that Pope Benedict XVI might endorse Intelligent Design, and come just in time for Darwin's 200th birthday."

from The Daily Beast website

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We Can Fly

I attended a seminar this morning sponsored by the Natchez Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Association. Though I'm not a business owner I wanted to glean information for, perhaps, personal application as well as what might be good for the city of Natchez.

John Brandon, Mississippi Development Authority, gave a presentation which he called "Buy-Ology of Business: How to Thrive in a Difficult Economy". He's a great speaker with a wonderful sense of humor and excellent delivery of pertinent information.

He related a maxim from the writings of the French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). The story in one of Apollinaire's poems is about a group of people who are encouraged time and again to come to the edge of the cliff but they are afraid and eventually, pushed over the edge of the cliff, "they flew". I think the point of this story is that we are all somewhat fearful of the consequences of the current economic crises and are hesitant to move in any direction but what is needed is the courage to move forward, to invest in a new vision for this country. We might just need a little push over that fearsome edge to realize our dreams.

The overall import of Mr. Brandon's message dealt with the small business owner but I felt there was a practical application, in a larger sense, for our city. What do we have that we are passionate about? What can we do better than anyone else? We can become the world's best ____? We can create a "Mecca", a center for the world's best something! And, he reminded us that 78% of the jobs in Natchez are tourism related.

I hear a lot of bemoaning that tourism just isn't going to cut it for the jobs we need in this city. I can and do understand that concern. But I also feel we've not, as a city, created a vision of what we can become. When we develop a thriving heritage tourism "Mecca" other kinds of jobs and industry will eventually spin off of that success. Mr. Brandon talked about the thousands of international tourists who visit Memphis each year. And what is it that makes Memphis so special?  They have a heritage tourism industry related to blues music, right? Well, we could have a smaller version of just that. We already have a great start as an Arts community. Why not have an Art and Entertainment District rich with galleries, music venues surrounded by shops with related merchandise?

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Fredericksburg, Texas, an agricultural community in the West Texas Hill Country. This lovely little hamlet, remote from the interstate and populated areas of Texas, is a thriving tourist destination chock full of antique stores, galleries, gourmet restaurants. On that weekday of our visit the sidewalks were teeming with tourists perusing the shops and galleries. The buildings are historic and new construction takes on the characteristics of the old. The Chamber of Commerce website says that "Over the last 20 years tourism has taken a giant step forward and is now a big part of our economy." And, they, too, have ordinances for their historic district. ( Their community calendar is full with lots of live music events, theatre, festivals and fairs...and a First Friday Art Walk like ours, thanks to Carrie Lambert, Natchez DDA.

I should point out that Fredericksburg is half the size of Natchez and they don't have our beautiful and amazing Mississippi River. Someday we, too, will fly!

Why I Left United Mississippi Bank

Today I removed all my funds from United Mississippi Bank and deposited them in Britton & Koontz. Here's why - read carefully.

This horror story has two parts, the first of which was beyond UMB's control.

Part I

Heartland Payment Systems (hereinafter called Heartless) processes credit and debit card transactions between commercial entities - like retailers, restaurants, and other businesses - and the financial institutions that issue the cards. They are one of the largest such companies in the country. Sometime last year (probably May), their system was "compromised" - a fancy word for criminals hacking into the system and stealing information. However, they had no system in place to pick that up, much less prevent it. The way Heartless found out in October was that Visa and MasterCard noticed suspicious behavior. It took Heartless from October until January to find it. Then guess when they announced it - on January 20, Inauguration Day! They sure know how to bury bad news.

Heartless did not publicly disclose who has been affected. Isn't that amazing? They didn't even contact all the banks and let them know their cards had been hacked. Banks heard about it in different ways, and it was difficult for them to determine who was affected. But surveys of banks have been done - and this security breach may be the biggest ever.

Let's summarize: Heartless has no way to detect hacking - about 6 months after the fact someone tells them about it - it takes another 3 months for them to find it - then they hide it from the public. Nice guys!

Part II

This data breach has affected at least three of our local banks: B&K, UMB, and Regions - and it is NOT their fault. But how they react to this crisis tells us a lot about their competence and how they treat their customers.

I have no idea how Regions handled this.

Here's what Britton & Koontz did. They hustled until they were able to find out which of their customers might be affected. Then they sent them letters a couple of weeks ago telling them what happened, that their cards would be cancelled and new cards issued on a certain date, and in the meantime, they should check regularly for any suspicious behavior with their accounts. You couldn't ask for a more professional response. I've read local news stories from all over the country, and this seemed to be the response of most banks.

Now look at what United Mississippi Bank did. They cancelled the card first and then sent the letter. So suddenly your card is no good, and you have no idea why. I, and many, many other people, use our debit cards instead of checks. I tried to use mine to pay some bills online, and it didn't work - but I assumed that was the vendors fault. On Tuesday, I went to WalMart and had a cart full of stuff when I discovered my card was no good. The checkout clerk knew all about it - she said there were a lot of unhappy campers there. That little UMB branch in WalMart was jammed full of people. Fortunately for me, I did have one check in my purse - because the bank had run out of counter checks.

As it turned out, I was only inconvenienced. However, this could have had serious consequences. What if I had been out of town? Or needed my card for an emergency?

I went over to UMB today for an explanation, which was totally unacceptable. They said they were protecting us from unauthorized charges. Guess what? Other banks across the country were forgiving those charges. UMB was just protecting itself. I pointed out that everyone who uses online banking or has the NetCheck account is required to have an email. Why didn't they send an email if they were in such a hurry? Other banks were calling their customers. Why couldn't UMB do that? Because, no matter what they say, I don't think they really care about their customers. And I don't think they showed competence and professionalism in handling this crisis.

I took my money out of their bank and immediately deposited it in B&K, because I'm much more confident in their abilities and concerns.

Oh, when I got home, there was a letter from UMB. Thanks a lot for nothing.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Solution to the Economic Crisis


I am so excited - I have found the solution to the economic crisis, thanks to an article on The New Agenda, of which my daughter is a cofounder.

What is the solution? It's very simple. Women.

I know you're thinking I have finally gone off the deep end - but hear me out.

Let's start with Iceland. Iceland was famous for its financial system, which was its major industry. This fall, the headlines were full of its total collapse. In a way, it was more shocking than America's, because it was so highly regarded. The country is now teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. It's a small country, so the collapse of its major banks was a total catastrophy.

So what did Iceland do? In a recent election, it threw the men out, and women are now running the country. A new woman Prime Minister takes office next week, and she has thrown out all the good ole boys. At least half her cabinet will be women. The two major banks are now being run by women. The Prime Minister says:
"We are going to base our economic policies on prudence and responsibility, but we also stress social values, women's rights, equality and justice."

Are they nuts? Not according to research. Diverse groups do a much better job of problem solving. Wall Street has been run forever by white guys - who all look and act alike. Nowadays, however, they are looking desperately for diversity - especially women. So if you're a woman banker, now's the time to head to New York.

One study showed that elevated testosterone leads to increased risk taking. Other studies show that men are more likely to take high risks when surrounded by male peers. Women don't act like this.

Other research showed some unexpected benefits came just from women getting the right to vote, because politicians suddenly had to pay attention to what women wanted. (Imagine that!) One demonstrated benefit was increased public health measures. One professor says 20,000 lives are saved each year just because of women getting the vote.

In 2006, Muhammad Yunnus of Bangladesh was awarded the Nobel Peace Price, along with the Grameen Bank which he founded. Why? He popularized microlending - small business loans of around $200 to poverty struck people in his country (and now around the world). Over 97% of his loans go to women. Why? Women are far more likely to use their earnings on their families and to educate their children. Women are successful and pay their money back. They found when they lent to men, it was much more likely to be squandered.

Unfortunately for us, by the time we realized we were in an economic crisis, Hillary Clinton was no longer a candidate. And even more unfortunately, Obama is surrounding himself with men. He has the same number of women in his cabinet as Bush had - and only half as many as Bill Clinton. Did you notice all those guys with tax problems? I don't know about you, but that makes me nervous. The only woman with similar problems was because her husband filed separately and screwed up. You just can't trust men with money.

Message to Hillary: Send Barack to Iceland - maybe he'll learn something.

UPDATED: Today's Washington Post has an article about this very issue being discussed in England and Europe. It discusses a study showing that companies with higher percentages of women in management have weathered this crisis much better than male dominated companies. This is the lead, datelined London:

"Fred, Tom, Andy, Dennis, Eric, John, Stephen, Antonio and Paul ran British banks that lost billions of dollars. So they have been called in for a grilling by Nick, Graham, Colin, Jim, Stephen, Michael, Andrew, George, Mark, Peter, three Johns -- and a single, solitary Sally."

Civil Rights in Natchez

I lived through the Civil Rights struggle when I was growing up in Natchez. My father, Leo Scanlon, was the pathologist and coroner, so he had to go out almost every weekend to attend a murder scene, mostly for black men murdered by KKK members.

I went to Montebello School when I was very young, and Mr. McCraney, one of our neighbours, was a policeman and handled the traffic every morning. We loved to watch him direct the traffic, and felt sorry for him when he had to stand outside in the pouring rain.

One morning, he had a big traffic mess to handle when parents in the school started protesting the upcoming integration of Montebello. I had no idea what was going on when I saw angry parents at the school entrance with signs saying to keep the school whites only -- they shouted at everyone who drove past and looked so frightening.

The following school year, however, we had our first black student, Calvin. I can't imagine what that was like for him, being the only black person in an all-white school.

Anyway, we all liked Calvin, and one day, we had big excitement when we got to tour the Honey Bun factory for a school trip, and we each got a Honey Bun freshly made to eat. The bus was driving through a poorer part of town on the way back to school, and I decided to be clever. I whispered to a friend, "Hey, we're driving through Calvin's part of town." Then she whispered it to others, and others whispered it, and I was sitting next to Calvin and soon noticed big tears rolling down his cheeks.

He'd heard my remark. I'd made him cry! I was so ashamed of myself. How could I have done such a thing? I hadn't meant to hurt his feelings; I was only trying to be cute and wasn't thinking.

It made me think hard about racism. I was so sure I wasn't racist because we'd welcomed Calvin to school, yet I could make a remark like that. I'm still ashamed to this day of what I did, and it makes me think that we all have to struggle with racism, feeling superior to others for no reason, etc., no matter how we pride ourselves on our perfection in public. The internal struggles are the hardest.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Pat Head Summitt - A Heroine

Growing up, I was a tomboy and played intramural sports, the only kind available to girls at that time. I always thought it unfair that girls didn't have the same opportunities that boys had in sports.I was very involved in the 1972 passage of Title IX, the legislation outlawing sexual discrimination in education - but most famous for its impact on women's sports. Shortly thereafter, a phenomena arrived at the University of Tennessee.

Pat Head Summitt was born on a farm in Tennessee and was an outstanding basketball player, whose parents actually moved to another town so she could go to a school that offered girls basketball. She went on to become an All American at the University of Tennessee - Martin, but her big goal was to play in the Olympics - if and when women's basketball became an Olympic sport.

When Pat graduated, she was thrilled to be offered a graduate assistantship as assistant coach of the women's basketball team. She owes that opportunity to a female physical education teacher who was impressed with her. Imagine her shock and surprise when she showed up for her first day on the job and was told the coach had quit - and she was now the head coach! She was 22 and barely older than her players.

During her first two years there, she completed her Masters Degree and prepared for the 1976 Olympics, the first time women's basketball was an Olympic sport. She not only made the team, but she was a team captain and they won the silver medal.

In spite of other pressures, she coached her players to two winning seasons. However, that was the last time one of her teams would win less than 20 games - and the last time they would not go to NCCA Playoffs. How many male coaches can make that claim? None. She's been my heroine ever since I saw her in the Olympics - and I've followed her career ever since.

Thursday, she reached a benchmark that has never been reached before by any collegiate basketball coach - male or female. In fact, no one is even close. She just won her 1000th game! And she's knocked off almost every other record set by her male colleagues.

The only record she hasn't broken is one by the legendary John Wooden (UCLA) who won ten national championships. She has eight, and she's only 56, so she'll get that record as well. She already passed Kentucky's coach Adolph Rupp. With 18 Final Four appearances, she easily passed Wooden's record of a mere 12.

Her Lady Vols have won more NCAA victories (104) than any other team. Wooden, Rupp, Bobby Knight? Not even close! She was the first women's coach with a perfect season (1997-98). Her Lady Vols were the first women's team to win back to back to back national championships.

Last year, she was the first woman to receive the John Wooten Legends of the Game Award. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame the first year she was eligible. Needless to say, she's also in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. ESPN named the Lady Vols the team of the decade (1990s) tied with the Florida State Seminoles Football Team - take that FSU! In 2000, she was named Naismith Coach of the Century - and one of her players was named Naismith Player of the Century. She's earned a myriad other awards and honors.

She was the first female coach to earn more than a million dollars a year. But shortly after she signed that contract, she gave $600,000 back to the University's women's basketball program and endowing a scholarship.

In 1980, she married, and in 1990, she gave birth to her only child, Tyler. She went into labor while on a recruiting trip to Pennsylvania. She finished her business, then told the pilots of her plane to hurry because she wanted her son born in Tennessee. She took Tyler to work with her, and the team loved him. She was honored at a White House luncheon given by then First Lady Hillary Clinton for The 25 Most Influential Working Mothers, as selected by Working Mothers Magazine.

So in March, when everyone else is obsessed with the men's NCAA tournament, I hope you join me in watching Pat Head Summitt take another team to the women's tournament. She and the Lady Vols are a lot more awesome than whoever wins the men's tournament.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Small towns

When my father moved the family from beautiful eccentric Natchez to the teeny dull Halstead, Kansas, when I was 12, I was devastated. Halstead had about 2,000 people in it, and everyone knew everyone. I hated that. There was no anonymity. Anything you did was watched and talked about.

I missed the greenery of the South. Kansas was so flat and the landscape was boring - just pale brown with wheat. I was interested, though, in how people from Kansas hated the landscape of the South -- too claustrophobic, too many plants and trees -- you couldn't see for miles like you could in the Midwest.

So I guess it's whatever you grow up with that you love the best. But I thought of Halstead last night as I was finishing up Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. Of small towns, he wrote:

The tradition, repeated in scores of magazines every month, is that the American village remains the one sure abode of friendship, honesty, and clean sweet marriageable girls. Therefore all men who succeed in painting in Paris or in finance in New York at last become weary of smart women, return to their native towns, assert that cities are vicious, marry their childhood sweethearts, and presumably, joyously abide in those towns until death....

It is an unimaginatively standardized background, a sluggishness of speech and manners, a rigid ruling of the spirit by the desire to appear respectable. It is contentment...the contentment of the quiet dead, who are scornful of the living for their restless walking. It is negation canonized as the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of happiness. It is slavery of self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness made God.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Taking flowers to shut-ins

This is where I grew up in Natchez. This house is on a street called Brightwood, but it was built across a little stream from Montaigne, the antebellum home. (It was built by some owners of Montaigne for their relatives to live in.) My mother's best friend was Betty Shields McGehee who is a relative of the current owners.

Miss Betty, as I was allowed to call her as a child, is still active in the Natchez social scene today. When I was 12, Miss Betty had the great idea to share her enormous crop of daffodils with 'shut-ins,' as they called people who couldn't leave their homes then. She got all the young people in her church class to wrap brightly colored sticky paper around empty tin cans to make vases. Then we got bunches and bunches of daffodils to put in them. Each of us was assigned a house to take the flowers to.

My mother drove me up to an old house in Natchez, and I knocked then went through door (this was in the late '60s and people didn't have all the security locks that they do now). The two ancient ladies who lived there had been told earlier that someone was coming to their door but they still got confused and agitated. "Who is that?" one of them cried as I went through the door. "I don't know who that is," said the other. "Do you?" I told them who I was and what I was doing there but it didn't spark any recognition in their minds. The house was dark and still and gave me the creeps.

These ladies were old and scary to me. I'd never run across people who couldn't see or hear. I tried to tell them who I was but their voices got louder and louder and more anxious. They crept across the room with their canes, travelling slowly but inexorably towards me. I was so frightened. I thought about running to get my mother but she was waiting in the car with the motor running on the street for me. The old ladies continued to shout at each other about who this intruder might be, and I became more and more panicked.

Finally, I just left the flowers in the tin-can vase and ran.

It was only later that I realized that I'd totally forgotten to put water in the can, and the flowers would be dead so quickly, before the ladies were even able to enjoy their scent and color.

I've never forgotten the Daffodil Incident. If only I could turn back the clock and go in and water the things so they would have lived for at least a few days. What a waste. I never even told my mother or Miss Betty; I was that embarrassed.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Woes of Technology

Last week I accidently spilled hot tea onto my laptop screen. The cat was whining at the door to get out, and the dog was begging with his eyes to be fed. I attempted to get up, with the cup of tea in my hand, when I got tangled up in the wires connecting my hard-drive backup device to my laptop and splashing hot tea all over the screen. I grabbed the soft cloth that comes with the computer cleaning solution trying to frantically wipe the screen, but the tea had honey in it and I didn’t want the cloth to be sticky, so I grab a nearby cotton throw and use that. I clean the screen and all looks okay.

I leave the laptop closed, which I guess was a mistake, because when I return a few hours later and open it, there’s a huge shadow covering the screen. It looks like a lava lamp, but stationary, not moving. I’ve only had the laptop just over a year so I am devastated. I spend the next two hours calling Apple Care. I'm told I have to make an appointment online with the nearest Apple Store. I choose Baton Rouge and spend another hour trying to make an online appointment.

It had only been a few months ago I had made an appointment online because my hard-drive had crashed. I had heard people talking about their computers crashing for years, but I've been through two computers and a laptop with this never happening. So of course, when my new laptop crashed, I had nothing backed up. Hence, the first appointment at the Apple Store in Baton Rouge. Of course, I couldn’t remember how I had made that first appointment online.

The next day I am driving through Baton Rouge traffic to get to the Apple Store at 11 a.m. The young man at the “Genius Bar” tells me there is nothing they can do even though my laptop is still under warranty. He tells me they’ll have to do a T-4 or 10-4 - something that entails taking the entire laptop apart, because there could be moisture damage throughout, and if there was honey in the tea, that is worse. It would be at least $700, but they will sell me a new one for 10% off.

I pack up my laptop, making space for the next person in line, and carry on with my regular Baton Rouge stops: Petco, Target, and Whole Foods. Since it was cool outside, my dog, Frostie, had made the trip with me, and the highlight of his day was his first visit to Petco.

After Whole Foods, I fight my way onto I-10 and, race home, with Frostie panting excitedly in the back. I had left the cat inside, since the morning had been so cold, and I know she needs to get out. So, after two days lost dealing with technology, at the end of the day, I have no doubt it will always be the pets that rule!