Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm Randy, let me in

I was finishing up a Natchez mystery last night, The Turning Angel by Greg Iles. In it, he mentions the Eola Hotel:

At seven stories, the Eola Hotel is the tallest building in Natchez. Built in 1927, the year of the great flood, the Eola has weathered booms and bust to find itself on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Eola has such a strong place in my childhood memories -- it was our grand hotel -- that when I got married, even though I was poor, I wanted to spend a couple of nights there with my new British husband, Mel.

I was telling him how gracious and refined the South was, and the Eola was a fine representation of that tradition. It had been totally refurbished when we got married in late 1985, so Mel was suitably impressed when he stepped into the grand lobby:

We were asleep that first night when we were disturbed by a man banging on the door next to ours and shouting:

"I'm Randy. Let me in!"

As the man continued to shout and pound on the door, Mel observed that the South didn't seem so refined if you could just shout out to someone in public that you were horny and wanted sex and then try to force your way into their room. (No one is named Randy in England. It's unheard of. Maybe someone is named Randolph, but it's never shortened to Randy. Randy means you want to have sex with someone -- it's an adjective describing your current state of mind.)

I laughed when I realized that Mel didn't understand that this man's name was Randy. The shouting and beating of the door continued, and we started to worry, so we called down to the lobby to get someone to intercede.

The next morning, we opened our door to find the door of the next room had been totally smashed in.

"So much for Southern politeness and refinement," Mel observed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nancy Pelosi - A Heroine

Nancy Pelosi is the first female Speaker of the US House of Representatives. She is also second in line of presidential succession, after Vice President Biden. This makes her the highest ranking female politician in American History. She is also one of the most effective and powerful Speakers we've ever had, as she aptly showed last night. These are my favorite quotes from today's news - although there were many to choose from.
"Republicans enjoy making fun of Nancy Pelosi, but the House Speaker kicked their butts on health reform." -- Congressional Quarterly
"If there were a Mt Rushmore for House Speakers, her pleasant grin and steely eyes would be on it." -- Paul Begala

Nancy Pelosi was born and raised in Baltimore in a well known Catholic political family. Her father was a Congressman and Mayor, and her brother also served as Mayor. When she graduated with a degree in political science, she went to work for a US Senator from Maryland. But while she was in college she met and fell in love with Frank Pelosi. When they married, they moved to New York and then San Francisco.

Like a good Catholic wife, she stayed at home to raise her five children. But she was an active volunteer for the Democratic Party, working her way up with ladder. One of her mentors was Congressman Philip Burton who served for 20 years until his death. His wife was appointed to his seat, but she decided not to run for reelection and chose Pelosi to run for her seat. Since Pelosi's youngest child was a senior in high school, she felt like she could now run for office. It was an extremely close race, but she won - and has never had a serious challenger since.

When she announced her campaign for Congress in 1987, it made the news in Baltimore because of the prominence of her family. I was living in Annapolis at the time and heard the news. The more I learned about her, the more I liked her. I sent her a contribution and have been a fan ever since - closely following her career.

Like most women in a male dominated career, she worked harder and more professionally than most of her colleagues - and she gained a great deal of respect from her peers. She served on Committees usually reserved for men - Appropriations and Intelligence - and eventually became the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.

In 2001, in a close race, she was elected House Minority Whip, the first woman to hold that position. In 2002, when the Minority Leader resigned to run for President, she was elected to that position - and became the first woman to lead a major party in the US House. After the Democrats gained control of the House, she became the first woman Speaker of the House. During her acceptance speech to Congress, she discussed the historical importance of being the first female to hold the position of Speaker:
"This is a historic moment — for the Congress, and for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren't just waiting; women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and granddaughters, today, we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them".
Nancy, on behalf of all the women to whom you are a heroine, I want you to know we are extremely proud of you!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Financing for College to be Voted On Tomorrow

In addition to the Health Reform Bill, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) will also be part of the budget reconciliation bill to be voted on tomorrow.

SAFRA will increase the size of the Pell Grant that will amount to an investment of $488,354,485 in Mississippi over the next 10 years. It will increase funding for the College Access Challenge Grant program, and will also fund innovative programs at states and institutions that focus on increasing financial literacy and helping retain and graduate students - $9,254,555 in Mississippi over the next 5 years. It also invests $69,894,610 in Mississippi’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. A competitive grant program for community colleges will be established.

SAFRA will also total revamp the current student loan program. Right now these loans are through private banks but guaranteed by the federal government - and these has proven to be extremely expensive for students and for the federal government. Beginning July 1 this year, the loans will return to direct loans from the federal government, which have proven to be more stable, effective, and cost efficient. Payback schedules will be established based on the students' income. The loans will be serviced by private lenders, but unlike bank loans, these loans can only be serviced by US workers.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budge Office, returning to direct loans will save enough money to pay for this entire program - AND reducing the deficit by $10 billion over 10 years.

One more reason to hope that President Obama and Speaker Pelosi find 216 votes in the US House tomorrow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Good News about Mississippi

According to Facing South, the blog from the Institute of Southern Studies, there is good news about Mississippi in a recently released Pew Center Report.

The US has about 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. Gee, sounds like we're a nation of outlaws! However, for the first time since 1972, 2009 showed a decrease in state prison populations. And Mississippi is leading the way.

Why is this happening? The Great Recession has forced states to try less costly, and often more effective, solutions to the previous "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude.

Two years ago, Mississippi was facing a prison population that had almost doubled since 1972 - and serious budget shortfalls at the same time. So they revisited their "truth in sentencing" laws, allowing nonviolent offenders to be released earlier under certain conditions. The Legislature also made some other thoughtful changes. All these efforts paid off, with the state showing one of the sharpest declines in prison populations in the country. Plus, there was no accompanying increase in crime, as feared by some.

According to a 50 state survey released Wednesday (March 17) by the Pew Center on the States:
"The move put Mississippi at the leading edge of a major national change, one that appears to be the result of teeming prisons, a deep recession, and changing attitudes toward corrections. For the first time in 38 years, state prison populations declined in 2009."
It's not often that you hear the words "Mississippi" and "leading edge" in the same sentence. So let's celebrate.

Disappointing Rosalie

I had the most beautiful time in Natchez the other week, and top of my list of things to do was to visit my favorite antebellum home there, Rosalie. I saw it so many times as a child then in my adulthood -- everytime I went to Natchez after I moved away -- I would go see Rosalie.

Here's a pic of my favorite room:

I also liked this shot I got of a Southern Belle doing a little accounting at the house:

But our visit there was disappointing. I knew something had changed when we went to go into the house and the door was locked. When we knocked, a woman in a shiny fuschia Civil War dress (did they wear that color in those days?) opened the door and said (just like they did to Dorothy in the Emerald City):

"Go away now and come back later." Then she shut the door in our faces.

I said to my husband, "I can't believe it! This is just like the Wizard of Oz." He agreed. But we had to see Rosalie so we waited until she finally opened the door again.

The tour was so bad. One woman didn't know the house and kept looking at notes to see what to say in each room, then finally said, "I usually do Auburn -- I don't know Rosalie."

The tours in that house used to be so special, warm and welcoming. I was really not happy about the experience, and when I compared notes with other tourists at other homes, they said they'd had similar experiences and found the tour guides rude and unknowledgeable.

I'm putting this post in here in case someone reads it and can do something to better the Rosalie Experience. It's such a beautiful place, and I want people to love it as I do, not think of it with distaste.

(PS: The woman in the gift shop is lovely but then she lives in Natchez and knows everyone.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spoiled by Natchez

When I was staying at the Elms antebellum home in Natchez last week, my morning breakfasts looked like this:

This sure wasn't like Shoney's Breakfast Bar!

I was so spoiled by the owner Esther Carpenter's cooking (she was a gourmet chef in LA) that the breakfasts I ate after I left her house were sad tasteless affairs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Elizabeth of London Graces Natchez

The Queen of England is not the only Elizabeth in London. Far more important to me is Elizabeth Scanlon Thomas. Why is she more important? First of all, she was reared in Natchez until the age of 12, so she is full of Southern charm and grace - she even still has her Natchez accent with a little touch of British. She is a blogger par excellance - both at her own blog and this one. She is entertaining, thoughtful, brilliant, and gracious. I know this sounds like a bit much, but she truly lives up to the hype.

I first "met" Elizabeth online. I have a Google Alert for Natchez that lets me know whenever the word Natchez appears online. Since Elizabeth sometimes writes about her life in Natchez, I received an alert one day for her blog and checked it out. I wondered what in the world a Natchez girl was doing in England, so I emailed her. Since then I religiously read her blog every day. She writes several times a day, so I feel like I know her fairly well. I asked her if she would share some of her Natchez stories on The Natchez Blog, and she agreed. Over the years, we had gotten to be good friends - even though we had never laid eyes on each over or heard each other's voice.

A few months ago, Elizabeth told me that she and her husband Mel were coming to Natchez for a couple of days. I was so excited and wanted to make sure their visit was wonderful. First, I wanted them to stay at the perfect Natchez place. So of course, I recommended that they stay at The Elms Bed and Breakfast. The over 200 year old home has been owned by the same family for 130 years, so it's filled with antiques and history. Owner Esther Carpenter is both a professional chef and a well known artist, so the interior design and the food are unbelievable. Yes, this will do for Elizabeth of London!

Next we arranged a luncheon with the other Natchez Bloggers. Elizabeth requested that it be held at The Carriage House on the grounds of Stanton Hall, of which she had the fondest memories. She brought us all gifts from England (see picture) which included a bag with the British flag, a tea towel with a picture of Sherlock Holmes, a tin of biscuits (British for cookies), a gin and tonic cocktail in a can (!), a tea selection (of course), and a replica of the famous London phone booth.

The rest of their brief visit was crammed with perfect Natchez experiences: a trip to the Natchez Visitors Center for souvenirs and an overall view, a driving tour of the downtown area including the magnificent Mississippi River, the historial Natchez photograph collection housed at the First Presbyterian Church (click to see the pictures), cocktails at the Admiral Merrill House, the hilarious production of Southern Exposure by the Natchez Little Theater, the Pilgrimage Tours of antebellum homes, and of course the Pageant, produced by the Natchez Garden Clubs and in which Elizabeth participated as a young girl. I think Elizabeth and Mel thoroughly enjoyed their visit and will come back whenever they can - and send all their friends.

Everyone who met Elizabeth and Mel were immediately charmed. (Did I mention that Mel is not only cute but has this to die for British accent?) I don't think the Queen and her Prince could have made a better impression. Natchez was truly graced by their visit.

Ex-Natchez-Pat Returns to Natchez

On Tuesday several bloggers of The Natchez Blog, gathered for lunch at the Carriage House Restaurant, in Natchez, eager to meet Elizabeth Scanlon Thomas who had arrived in town, from her London, England home, the night before.

Casey, Gwen, Elodie, Marsha, and myself had never met Elizabeth, but we felt as if we knew her, from reading her comments on Casey's Natchez Blog, as well as postings on her own blog.

Elizabeth found our blog through a mutual connection -- Natchez. She and her family lived in Natchez where her father was a pathologist. Unfortunately, her idillic life in Natchez ended when at 12 years old her family moved to Kansas. A drastic change, as Elizabeth describes it -- from foliage and flowers to stark and sterile.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth's husband, Mel, who accompanied her on her return trip to Natchez. Elizabeth told us over lunch she and Mel met when she was on a study abroad program in London; they stayed in touch, and several years later were married. They lived in the US for a few years -- Boston and later in St. Louis, but returned to London.

Since Elizabeth found us on Casey's Natchez blog and later on Facebook, we have all shared photos of friends, family, and special moments in our lives and it has been such a treat to learn more about Elizabeth's life in England -- so different, yet so similar. So to finally meet was such a delight for us all.

Elizabeth came with gifts in hand: a red satchel bearing the UK's Union Flag, with many goodies inside. She retains a southern accent along with a dry wit that only a southerner can possess. Her husband, Mel, was lovely and charming, and he managed quite well being outnumbered by women all day.

I look forward to reading Elizabeth's blog recounting her return trip to Natchez; it sounds like they had the full experience: Southern Exposure, The Natchez Pageant, and antebellum home tours. They stayed at the bed and breakfast, The Elms, owned by Esther Carpenter, while in Natchez.

Whether in the states, across the pond, or simply on The Natchez Blog or Facebook, we look forward to many more sojourns with our friend and fellow Natchezian, Elizabeth.

You can follow Elizabeth on her blog and read more about her visit to Natchez at: It looks like Elizabeth is already posting and beat us to it, but can't wait to read it!

Miss Betty gives me a gift

My mother's dearest friend was Betty McGehee of Natchez. Miss Betty (we children were allowed to call her that after years of knowing her) lives on a big farm with horses, cows and chickens. We always loved going out to the McGehee's and riding their horses and getting a taste of the country life.

Here's me and Miss Betty earlier this week:

We saw Miss Betty twice during our few days in Natchez. She let me pick fragrant daffodils from her garden and put them in a can with some water, and we drove around Natchez with those flowers in the cup holder of the car for the next couple of days and I was constantly reminded of her.

When I was young and living in Natchez, Miss Betty had an idea to pick daffodils from her vast acres of them and put in decorated cans to give to shut-ins -- elderly people who couldn't get out of the house -- to cheer them. But I was so intimidated by them when I tried to take them flowers that I forgot to put water in the can so the flowers would have been dead quickly. I finally confessed this to Miss Betty, and she laughed and we re-created the daffodils in the can, only this time I put water in them.

On our second visit yesterday, we sat on the rocking swing on her front porch and talked about my mother and the guilt I had over her life (she was in a home with Multiple Sclerosis while I was living in England raising kids so I wasn't there for her except for yearly visits). Miss Betty tried to help me by telling about some of her private guilt that she was dealing with, then we both started crying, and it was cathartic.

Then she loaded us down with pecans from her trees, homemade lemonade and more daffodils in cans, and basically we agreed that she was my mother now that my own mother is dead, and the whole visit was a beautiful experience.

I have to show you this photo Mel took of me getting ready to go out at the antebellum home we were staying in. I was sooo nervous, not knowing what to expect from Natchez -- would it deny me its magic or open its arms to me? And it came through for me. Thank you Natchez.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Barbour Fiddles While Mississippi Burns

The federal government today released its states based unemployment figures for January. As reported by Chris Kromm in Facing South - a blog from the Institute for Southern Studies - the South is suffering. Eight out of 13 Southern states, including Mississippi, have unemployment figures below the national average. A year ago, Mississippi had 8.2% unemployment. Now it's 10.9%. The national average was 7.7% and 9.7 %. Our neighboring state of Louisiana is doing better with 5.7% and 7.4%. The only southern state doing better than Louisiana is Virginia.

Most people know what the President is doing to bring down unemployment - and we undoubtedly have differing opinions about his approach. But how many of you are aware of what our Mississippi representatives are doing?

Right now there's a pissing match going on in the State House. It's so bad it made CBS news. At stake is $52 million dollars in federal money for unemployment. Governor Barbour refuses to accept this money to help out the unemployed in Mississippi. After all, there are rumors he's running for President (what a joke!) and he has to polish his teabagger credentials. What does he care about the poor and the unemployed? Absolutely nothing, as he has shown time and time again.

What's his excuse? He doesn't want to pay unemployment for part time workers which is required in the federal program. Hello, Haley - come down to earth where the rest of us live. Why do you think people work part time jobs? Because they're lazy? No, these people are, by definition, workers - not bums. They may work part time because that's the only work they can find. Or because they're mothers with small children who can't work full time. Or maybe they put several part time jobs together to make ends meet. If any of these people lose their jobs, their families are destitute. And part time jobs are the most unstable of jobs and rarely offer any benefits. People are hurting, Haley - and they need help to get through these hard times.

This time, the Democrats in the State House of Representatives are playing tough. They aren't approving the authorization for the State Department of Employment Security, which administers the unemployment program, unless the Governor agrees to accept the federal assistance. If the agency is not authorized, the federal government will take over. I know you'll love that, Haley!

Guess we'll see who wins this game of chicken. While thousands of Mississippians are suffering big time, our Emperor is fiddling.