Wednesday, December 17, 2008

'Go get your shawl' and other Christmas tales

During the Depression, my great aunt, Tura, taught at a country school in Eudora. Poverty was a way of life in rural Mississippi, and with the Depression lingering for many years, her students never experienced Christmas morning with a mountain of presents under a festive tree. In a time of bread lines to feed those who were hungry, even a traditional holiday meal was rare.

Needless to say, Santa Claus was an image never conjured in the mind of Aunt Tura’s students, and she hoped to change that during the annual Christmas pageant at the school.

With Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and three wise men, the pageant illustrated the first Christmas, complete with singing spiritual carols. Aunt Tura planned to surprise the children after the play with a special appearance from Santa Claus, and boy, did she.

As the audience applauded the young actors for their performance, Santa Claus burst into the school house and shouted, “Ho, ho, ho.”

With his red felt suit and curly white beard, Santa lumbered through the door with his bag full of goodies. The kids went berserk, and not in the I-just-won-a-date-with-Elvis kind of way.

Screaming from fear, they launched themselves out the windows – the manger overturning and a plastic baby

Jesus falling to the floor. Like pirates bailing out of a sinking ship, all of Bethlehem flew out the building and hit the ground at a sprint – running through neighboring cotton fields to safety.

Still inside the school, parents sat open-mouthed in shock at the chaos around them, and poor Santa was left in the middle of the room with no children to deliver his goods.

I can’t imagine never knowing Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, we would have dinner at my grandparents, complete with a gift exchange and scripture readings (and not in that order much to the disgust of the Sexton children). With our bellies full and a new toy, my sisters and I would return home, wash our faces, and climb into bed for the longest night of the year.

At approximately 4 a.m. we would wake and perch ourselves on the top step of the stairs – forbidden from going down until a “reasonable” hour. That was usually 6 a.m. when my parents wobbled down the hallway with bed hair and red eyes from “waiting up to greet Santa” the night before.

Again, we were forced to wait on the stairs for Momma to make coffee and Daddy to get the camera. With a simple “okay” called up the stairs, my sisters and I thundered down the stairs, swinging around the banister, and trying to gain traction on wood floors in footy pajamas.

Bulging stockings hanging from the mantel were the first to catch our eye. Inside were plastic candy canes filled with chocolate, decks of cards, silly putty, and Lifesaver Storybooks.

Then as if the heavens opened up, the gift display left from Santa shone in the early morning light. I always wondered why Santa never left toys inside the boxes, and there was never any assembly required. Every gift had the necessary batteries, and bicycles were always ready to ride. Santa was so thoughtful!

Santa was always tested at the Sexton house because most times he was required to buy three of everything – matching dresses, different colored pastel bikes, and three Barbies in different outfits.

Santa once delivered three matching macramé shawls for my sisters and me to wear to church on Sunday. I will confess Santa must have gotten our house confused with another because the last thing any of us wanted was a macramé shawl.

White yarn, these shawls had a single button at the neck and two slits at the pocket to stick your hands through. Fringe dangled from the hem. They were the most unattractive garments we had ever seen.

Every Sunday after, Daddy would insist for us to “go get your shawls,” and we would stomp back upstairs in protest. Apparently even in the warm weather, a shawl was needed. There was something about the “night air” that was harmful. (Now thirty-something, I still haven’t figured out what.)

Oh, but I was the lucky one. As the youngest, I got hand-me-downed Stephanie’s shawl and Deana’s shawl. I was still getting my shawl in junior high.

But not all of my gifts were unwanted. In fact, many of the same things Santa left for me, he will be leaving for children this year. Hello Kitty, Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbie, Smurfs, and others are still being longed for today by children across the United States.

We even had video games, but we did not ask for a Nintendo or Xbox. We asked for Atari. A family gift from Santa, my sisters and I ripped open the package and found our new Atari – shiny black plastic adorned with wood-grained stickers. It came with three games, Frogger, Miss PacMan, and Donkey Kong.

There were three games, but only two joysticks. Many fights ensured over which one would be left out, and again as the youngest, it was usually me.

Momma also enjoyed the Atari – maybe a little much. She would stay up all night playing Frogger, her game of choice. She was truly addicted to it at one time and had nearly beaten the machine before the intervention.

Christmas is definitely the holiday for children. Now that I am grown and asking for bath towels from Santa, the thrill is gone. I even secretly wish I could sleep in on Christmas morning, and I am sure Momma and Daddy wished for that as well.

Bu t I miss the excitement. I miss the anticipation. I miss the frenzy. I miss a time when a Lifesaver Storybook could make everything in the world seem good again.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lessons from the gridiron

Last Friday, I watched the 2008 Egg Bowl at my significant other’s deer camp. Not only was I the only female in attendance, I was the only Rebel in the house.

My heart broke for all those men who were so devastated by the loss of their team. I hope they will recover and not need intense psychotherapy. (Note: Prior two sentences are dripping in sarcasm.)

I watched the game calmly in my chair – conducting myself with dignity. I did not chant one “Hotty Toddy.” I did not mock them for having more than 50 negative total yards rushing. I did not snicker at one interception for a touchdown.

I am certain my face clearly illustrated my smugness, and my air of superiority was definitely thick. But I did not gloat. I didn’t have too. Those Bulldog fans decompressed before my very eyes.

It was kind of sad, but I’m not complaining. I didn’t have to hear one, “How ‘bout them Dawgs?” Everyone already knew how the Dawgs were.

Being a lifelong Ole Miss fan, I understand disappointment. All four years I attended Ole Miss, our team was on athletic probation. No bowl games. No televised games. Tough recruiting.
However, I survived, and I learned a little bit in the process. I learned a little about winning, and I learned a lot about losing.

At a young age, we are forced to choose between the Rebels and the Bulldogs. I chose the Rebels, but I could just as easily have been ringing a cowbell right now. Personally, I’m happy if either team is victorious – with the exception of the Egg Bowl. I’ve been waiting to talk smack for an entire year!

Competitive by nature, I enjoy sparing with the Bulldog fan about this and that – neither of us have reason for puffed up egos. However, it’s all in good fun. Football is football, and all football is good.

In fact, my appreciation of football has spilled over into my everyday life. If life is the ultimate game, why not use a few lessons from the gridiron to help muddle through.

1. Who is calling the plays in your life? Just like in football, I have someone upstairs calling the plays. It is up to me to listen and have faith in the play that is called.

2. Everyone deserves a team, and I’m not referring to people in numbered jerseys. Disappointments are easier to swallow when others are there to pick you up when life tackles you to the ground. In turn, success is so much sweeter when someone is there to dance with you in the end zone.

3. Luckily, I have had many coaches and trainers directing me throughout my life. In high school, my English teacher, Denise Purvis, steered me to a career in writing. As a green reporter in my early 20s, I was taught advanced civics and all the bells and whistles of municipal government from a city administrator who took the time to make sure I knew enough to get the story right. Even now, as an editor and publisher, I depend on the wisdom of two veteran newspaper men to help me weigh the tough decisions.

4. Everyone needs cheers and applause for a job well done. What motivation! I learned long ago to surround myself with people who bring out the best in me. Mark Twain said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

5. During a particularly stressful time, a simple timeout allows me to gather my thoughts and refocus. Most days, I make an effort to leave my office for 30 minutes to an hour for a little nourishment – the dietary kind as well as the psychological kind. I might read a couple of chapters of a book, stop by for some time with my dogs, or relax for a few minutes with my thoughts. Returning to the office, I am ready to begin again.

In Mississippi, our lives are saturated with football – dinnertime discussions, water cooler replays, life-long affiliations. American’s sport is great to watch, but I have found it a better way to live.

Monday, December 01, 2008

So much to be thankful

With chaos brewing in the world around us, one might not think there is much to be thankful. Well, I disagree. I have much to be thankful.

I am thankful for the Ole Miss Rebels being ranked (if only by the AP) just in time for Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for TIVO, Diet Coke, my Blackberry, and my digital camera. I am thankful for book club, Momma’s homemade dressing, and hour-long telephone conversations with my best friend, Heather.

I am thankful for a comfortable home to gather with friends, relax with a good book, or leave the busy world behind if just for a moment.

I am thankful for living in a community of helpful neighbors and God-fearing individuals.

I am thankful for going to work every day, and I am thankful my profession is one I love. A good friend once told me that if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life. He was right.

I am thankful of having plenty of food to eat, clothes to wear, and the little luxuries that make life sweet.

I am thankful for happy childhood memories. I am not in therapy, and I do not blame my parents for all of my failures and short comings. My childhood might not have been perfect, but I wouldn’t change one moment.

I am thankful to all those who are gone but not forgotten. It is they who have shaped my life in every way.

I am thankful for my healthy, highly involved parents. Regardless of my age, I will always be their baby girl, and despite my independent streak, it is reassuring to have their guidance.

I am thankful for my sisters. Growing up, we bickered and sparred and fought, but no matter what, we have always been there for each other. They were my first friends, and as an adult, they are my best friends.

I am thankful for my significant other, Keith. He has always been supportive of my ambitions and my dreams. He allows me to be everything I dreamed.

I am thankful for friends. They have shared my tears, my joys, and my triumphs. They have also shared the blame.

I am thankful for the joy my four critters display when I return home each night.
In other words, I am thankful to be loved.

I am thankful for being an American and enjoying the liberties this country guarantees. And to those men and women in uniform who protect that freedom every day, my appreciation cannot be measured.

I am thankful for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, and to the vision of our forefathers that built this great country.

I am thankful for prayer and faith and hope for the future.

Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

This Thanksgiving, reflect and give thanks for what is important to you– no matter how small. Count them, and you will realize just how blessed you really are.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Daddy, may I take the wheel?

Sunday afternoon, my parents and sister visited me in Winona. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, they pulled into town with a pickup truck full of furniture and other odds and ends to finish furnishing my home. I miss seeing my family every day, so a visit for any reason is perfectly fine with me.

According to my sister, Deana, the trip was long. Traveling in Daddy’s truck is only comfortable if you ride in the front seat, but Deana did convince Momma to ride in the backseat. She also managed to convince Daddy to take us to dinner.

We decided to take a little tour of the area – especially the antebellum homes in Winona and Carrollton, and then head over to Greenwood to eat. I drove. Daddy sat in the passenger seat – gripping the legs of his pants with white-knuckled fists.

“Watch the road,” he shouted. “Watch the road.”

He complained about me getting to close to the ditch (I was simply driving the left lane). He complained about me handing Deana my cell phone (most people can do more than one thing at a time). He complained about my speed.

“Watch those people on the bikes.” I thought I needed to watch the road.

Funny thing, Daddy taught me to drive. At 15, I got my driver’s permit but still had never been behind the wheel of a car. I had 30 days to learn to drive before I got my license.

One Saturday, Daddy informed me that he would give me a driving lesson. I climbed into the driver’s seat of his 1985 Lincoln Town Car – all 25 feet of it. The car was so big, eight adults could ride comfortably on two seats and four others could sit in the truck.

My lesson lasted about three minutes. While backing out of the driveway, I ran off the pavement and into the drainage culvert at the street. Defeated, I trudged back into the house – leaving Daddy screaming and hollering in the front yard.

Two weeks later, we started out again – from the street this time. Daddy directed me down winding, country roads. I managed to keep it on the pavement, but I did have issues with a one lane railroad trestle. We switched seats while Daddy passed under it.

I practiced for about an hour before we headed home. Daddy didn’t holler at me during the lesson, but he did make a smart comment about me scaring him to death as he went into the house.

A week later, I managed to pass my driving test. Personally, I think the nice lady with the DMV felt sorry for me.

At 15 and one month, I was a licensed driver who still did not know how to drive. I could keep the car in the right lane, but I had issues with turning, parking, and reversing. Despite all of this, I convinced my parents to let me “cruise” Stateline Road in Southaven that Friday night. My sister, Stephanie, even let me use her new car.

Mind you, I have never driven anywhere but country roads, but I was certain I could make it on Stateline Road on the busiest night of the week. I was wrong.

I had not been out for more than an hour before I ran Stephanie’s new car under the rear end of a Dooley truck. When my parents arrived on the scene, they were eerily calm.

“She’s the youngest of my three girls,” Daddy told the police officer.

The officer nodded with a smile that said, “Oh, okay. You must be a pro at this.”

In fact, Daddy was a pro at this. By that time, I had already been in three fender-benders with my two older sisters, and each had been in separate accidents without me in the car. Daddy had even suggested he replace the passenger door to the car with something Velcro so it would be less expensive to replace. Stephanie and Deana always managed to take out that same door.

I wish I could say that was my one and only accident. Well, involving another car, it was. I managed to hit the big green dumpster behind my school, run through the garage wall, take out more mail boxes than I can count, hit a light pole, and run through a neighbors retaining wall.

Once in college, while on a 2 a.m. frozen yogurt run to Chevron in Oxford, a monster truck ran over my car in the parking lot. When I say ran over, I mean ran over my car while I watched in horror from inside the store. (I was in a marked parking space). As he bounced over the hood of my car, his trailer hitch wedged into my car’s engine. Two tow trucks were dispatched to rip our cars apart.

In my own defense, not all of these mishaps were my fault. In fact, I blame Daddy for the garage wall because his car was not entirely on its side of the garage. And the light pole – my car went completely out of control by itself like it was possessed.

Because of my spotty driving record, my first car was our 1984 Ford F150 farm truck. It was brown, and it always had grass clippings, mulch, or dead leaves in the back. I named the truck Loretta.

Loretta had seen better days when I got her. Both sisters broke her in, and she was just a fraction of her original self when I got her. She had no tape deck, and the radio would switch from FM to AM on its own. It required a forceful bang on the dashboard with my fist to flip it back to FM.

Remarkably, I was the only one of the three girls that did not get Loretta into an accident – every other car we owned, but not Loretta.

Over the past decade, my driving record has remarkably improved. I haven’t hit one inanimate object since college, and I can’t even recall my last fender bender – knock wood.

Looking for a lesson in my tale, I have thought long and hard. First, I don’t think it is I that needs to learn the lesson. Daddy taught me to drive, so therefore, his instruction is somehow flawed. If the driving instructor is screaming with fright every time you round a curve, it tends to do something to your psyche.

Second, in examining the driving histories of my grandfather, Daddy, and two sisters, I am beginning to believe our difficulties behind the wheel run in the family.

Third, when as an adult, you are required to fork out money for car insurance, to repair the car, and to settle up any tickets collected from your fender-bender, one tends to be much more careful. Ten and two, people. Times are tough.

Monday, November 17, 2008

For Lulu

High up in the courts of heaven today a little dog angel waits;
With the other angels she will not play, but she sits alone at the gates.
"For I know my master will come" says she, "and when she comes she will call for me."
The other angels pass her by as they hurry toward the throne,
And she watches them with a wistful eye as she sits at the gates alone.
"But I know if I just wait patiently that someday my master will call for me."
And her master, down on earth below, as she sits in her easy chair,
Forgets sometimes, and whispers low to the dog who is not there.
And the little dog angel cocks her ears and dreams that her master's voice she hears.
And when at last her master waits outside in the dark and cold,
For the hand of death to open the door that leads to those courts of gold,
She will hear a sound through the gathering dark,
A little dog angel's bark.
~ Author unknown

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Oriental Catfish? Say it ain't so!

Yesterday at my weekly Winona Rotary Club meeting, a gentleman from the Catfish Institute spoke to us about the Chinese and the Vietnamese trying to take over the South's catfish industry. What is this all about?

First, they are successfully making cotton obsolete in the Mississippi Delta, and now they are going to take our catfish ponds. This has to stop.

U.S. raised catfish are grain fed and raised in clean fresh water ponds like these.

The oriental alternative:

An Australian news program did an investigative piece on Chinese catfish being imported into Australia. They showed how the fish could be poisoning those who eat it.

Which one would you want to eat from?

Yeah, I thought so. Make sure you buy catfish raised with care in the American South.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I went as the dead mainstream liberal media

I spent Halloween with my family in Southaven, and as usual, we made huge spectacles of ourselves.

My nephew, Hunter, wanted me to come up for the weekend and go trick-or-treating with him and his friend, Matthew. He was going as that scary guy from "Scream." Matthew went as Michael Myers from "Halloween." (Note: Michael Myers still scares the crap out of me.)

Hunter refused to wear his mask. He looked somewhat like Obi-Wan Kenobi instead of crazy monster guy:

Matthew made Michael Myers look like he needed Botox:

On Halloween night, I made seafood etouffe for the family as Hunter and Matthew dressed in their fabulous costumes. I intended on going as a journalist (I know I am so utterly creative. I already sport the high blood pressure and fondness for alcohol like any good newspaper person.)

I was in charge of filling Hunter's "heart" with "blood" so it could be pumped out through his mask. The little vial exploded, and I was covered in red food coloring. I figured I could now go as a murdered journalist. (Notice the beer. I wasn't drinking it. It was merely a prop. I know, I don't even believe that.)

My sisters, Stephanie and Deana, and I took Hunter and Matthew and dropped them off on the sidewalk of a large, busy neighborhood. Hundreds of parents with children walked up and down the streets. We felt it best if we drove along side Hunter and Matthew in the car. Why get that unnecessary exercise? (Next year, we are thinking of investing in one of those Little Rascals.)

Stephanie, Deana, and Me:

Hunter and Matthew politely rang doorbells, got candy, and moved on. I drank beer.

Finally bored with "trick-or-treat," the boys thought it would be fun to play dead. They rang the doorbell, and then fell out on people's porches. This one man stood at the screen door (shirtless and in boxer shorts with massive chest hair and breasts, by the way....who does that?), staring down at them in amazement. It would have been perfect if Deana had not screamed out the window for the boys to "Get up right now!"

The funniest thing was actually watching Hunter and Matthew fall. They should head for the silver screen because they have "swooning" from old Hollywood down pat. I thought I was staring at Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth. They were very graceful.

They even pulled the trick on Momma. She totally fell for it regardless of what she might say. She did.

She didn't even see me hiding the Japanese maple with a camera.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I guaran-damn-ty Brangelina will marry irregardless of Y2K and Generation X

This week Oxford (not the Ole Miss one) made a list of the 10 most irritating words and phrases.

The top ten most irritating phrases according to Oxford:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

Well, I think Oxford missed some. I have my own list:

The 10 most irritating words and phrases according to Amanda:

1. Irregardless: So NOT a word! It means regardless, regardless.
2. Swiftboating: Used to describe unfair political bloviating. This refers to advertising sponsored by Swiftboaters for Truth that set out to discredit John Kerry as an war hero in the 2004 election against George W. Bush. It annoys me because this kind of thing has gone on for years, but until recently the media decided to give it a name to refer to anything said negative in a campaign.
3. Utilize: A very pretentious word. "Use" will do in most instances.
4. Generation X: Who is part of Generation W? I'm just asking.
5. Y2K: Seriously, who is responsible for coming up with a name for these things?
6. Phat or other "hip hop" words: If you would not use the expression in a job interview or business meeting, don't say it. If you are over the age of 18, just stop. You will never be hip again.
7. Six digits: People use this term to describe salary. If you are tacky enough to broadcast your salary, don't try to camouflage it by talking in code.
8. Instant message speak: People who speak in initials drive me insane. It is one thing if one is texting someone, but in a conversation, I don't want to try to decipher your freakish tech lingo.
9. Swear words mixed into other words: For example, "I guaran-damn-ty it."
10. Celebrity couple names: TomKat, Brangelina, Bennifer. Just plain stupid.

What are yours?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Conversations with Heaven: 'Hey, God, it's me'

Last weekend, I attended the annual Memorial Service at my home church in Eudora. Every year, our church remembers members of the church family who passed away during the year. A candle is lit and a prayer said for each of the dearly departed.

I wasn't there when the church started.

The service is followed with an old fashioned covered dish dinner consisting of scrumptious casseroles, fried chicken, and Southern-style vegetables. The meal is concluded by a trip to the desert table overflowing with homemade pies and cakes. It is such a delicious occasion.

The church in the valley:

This year, my Aunt Jean served as the keynote speaker and reminisced about growing up in the Eudora Presbyterian Church. She admitted believing as a girl her weekly church offering was taken to Heaven by way of a big ladder outside the church.

Aunt Jean received roaring laughter as she described her mission to catch the church’s treasurer in the act of delivering her money to God.

God's ladder?

Isn’t it amazing what is conjured in the imaginations of children?

Growing up, I believed that God only heard my prayers and no one else’s. I considered God my friend and confidant – telling him all of my secrets and hopes and shame. I didn’t need to have a silly imaginary friend; I had God.

As a child, I was saturated in Christianity. I attended Catholic school. I attended my Presbyterian Sunday school class weekly and Bible school every summer. Momma taught Sunday school for high school students, and I tagged along on retreats, field trips, and youth fellowship. Daddy was a member of the session and was extremely active in the administration of the church. When the doors were open, we were there.

These doors:
I was introduced to God at a young age, and from that, I felt a kinship with him. I can’t even count the many nights I spent soaring on my swing set while chatting with God. I literally filled him in on my day (like he didn’t already know) and discussed pressing decisions like Christmas wishes and birthday party guest lists.

Author Haven Kimmel wrote in her memoir, Girl Named Zippy, that she developed a crush on Jesus as a child – well, Jesus and Telly Savolis. So, obviously, I am not alone in this.
One can only imagine the one-sided conversations between me and the Almighty.

“Hey, God. It’s me. I didn’t do very well on that spelling test. I know we went over it all last night, but I just couldn’t remember. I know you are disappointed.”

I confessed.

“God, I was the one who left the gate open. I know I should have told Daddy it was me, but he was so mad. I never knew horses would eat azaleas.”

Granddaddy on Merry Golden Boy aka Goldie
I also would privately plot with God to punish everyone who wronged me.

“God, my sister was mean to me again,” I said. “I think you should do something about her because she is completely out of control. Not that I am telling you what to do, but she should really punished. Whatever you think she deserves. I have some suggestions….”

When nothing happened, I figured God was just waiting for the right time to enact revenge. Eventually, I forgot and move on to another unforgivable offense.

“God, I need your help again. She just won’t stop being mean to me. You need to do something that will teach her a lesson.”

Wasn’t I a silly child?

Despite a hardening of spirit over the years (we all become jaded with age), I have held onto my kinship with God – in a less naive manner. My prayers are still in the form of a conversation, and I still rely on him to direct me in the right path.

I had one of “our” conversations just last night. “Okay, God. Whatever you think I should do, I will do. Just let me know when the time comes.”

Funny thing is he still lets me know – just a little more subtly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What is the age limit to trick-or-treating?

I am accompanying my nephew, Hunter, trick-or-treating this Halloween, and I am just giddy with anticipation.

Hunter is dressing like Jason from those Friday the 13th movies, and since those movies gave me nightmares for 15 years, I hope the sight of him doesn’t stir up my old fears of hay lofts, summer camp, and psychotic killers that just won’t die. Me on the other hand, after thinking long and hard, I have decided to go as a journalist. (Am I creative or what?)

Over the years, I have dressed up like a clown (my sisters and I were a set), Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfette, a ballerina, a character from Lil’ Abner, Elvira, a hillbilly beauty queen, and Dolly Parton. Yep, I was a regular Lou Chaney.

Momma would haul my cousins and me all over the community collecting treats – real homemade treats. We got candied apples, homemade fudge, popcorn balls, and caramel apples.
There were also treats that weren’t made to be put in a bucket.

My aunt Gaye Gaye would always make cakes. We would scream “Trick or treat,” and she would invite us in and sit us down for our treat. I wonder if non-relatives were given cake too? Knowing Gaye Gaye, I would say yes.

Trick-or-treating would take four hours to visit 15 houses because we were expected to stay and visit with all the neighbors. We would have to listen to elderly aunts talk about new medications and the neighborhood busy-body repeating information she gathered while listening in on her party line telephone.

Trick-or-treating was an event for the entire community.

That isn’t the case anymore. In the larger cities, it is much too dangerous to allow children to go door to door by themselves. Parents are forced to drive them to house of people they know, and even then, they must sort through the candy to verify that no one put a razor in the candy while it sat on a grocery shelf.

Parents must also worry about unruly children left to their own devises on Halloween. For five years in a row before moving to Winona, my pumpkin was smashed in the street in front of my house. In fact, my entire street was covered in pumpkin road kill.

Every year, teenagers would come to my door holding a fast food sack and not wearing a costume. Personally, I think there should be an age limit on trick-or-treating. Puberty should be the cut-off.

One year, a teenager rang my parent’s doorbell and was extremely rude, and my mother refused to give him candy.

“I am sorry, but if someone wears that much cologne, they should not be trick-or-treating,” she told us after he stormed away.

Halloween here in Winona is a completely different ballgame. No one smashed my pumpkin, everyone was very friendly, and at 8 p.m. the streets were empty. (My yard did get toilet papered, but that is another story.) Organized trick-or-treating – I loved it!
However, I totally underestimated my candy inventory.

I purchased 15 pounds of candy for potential trick-or-treaters. I was out of candy in 20 minutes (toilet paper pay back, maybe?), and I was terribly embarrassed about having to turn my front porch light out when I had nothing left to offer. (I don’t think Winona children would have appreciated a can of peas or a Lean Cuisine frozen dinner.)

Happily, this year, I accepted the position of being the trick-or-treat-toter instead of the candy-bowl-holder. I’m only doing it for the candy. Don’t worry – I won’t be ringing any doorbells. I completely expect to collect my take from Hunter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Personal to-do list -- check, check

Recently, I made a list of things I wished to do – things I overlooked due to a busy life. My list was simple: visit my family, go on a date with my significant other, finish the half-read books on my nightstand, get a new hairstyle, and unpack the last two boxes from my move a year ago.

Simple and easy, and I should have finished that list in one weekend. However, it has been three weeks, and I am still working on it. (I get distracted easily.)

I started with the new hairstyle. My wish was that I no longer would be able to wear my hair in a barrette, twisted up on the top of my head – onion-style. I needed to do this first because this was the one task that had visible results. I figured I had to get rid of the barrettes because someone might walk up and comment about them in public.

I made an appointment with the stylist, and she wacked five inches off my hair. Now, even if I wanted to wear it up in a barrette, it is dang near impossible. Also, I have read that the shorter one’s hair is cut, the younger one looks. I just give it a couple years before I try out the buzz cut.

Anyway, new hair style – check.

Now that deer season has begun, a date with the significant other was more difficult than I imagined. For three weeks, we planned to go out, but life kept getting in the way. Friday night, we found a few minutes of time and went to eat dinner in Greenwood.

I fell asleep in the car on the way home (before 10 p.m.). I hope he didn’t take offense.
For some reason, dating was much easier when I was younger – especially when dinner reservations did not interfere with my 9 p.m. bedtime.

Date with significant other – check.

I have a very short attention span, and nothing proves this more than half-read books littering my bedside table and bedroom. I get bored very easily, and if a book doesn’t hold my attention, I will put it down and never pick it back up again.

For weeks, I read a couple chapters here and there from my assigned book club book. I picked this particular book to be read, and the meeting was to be held at my house. The book was a novel that depicted the life of a girl accused and imprisoned during the Salem witch trials – perfect for October, right?

What I didn’t count on was the author’s ability to bring the events to life, and I read the book nightly before bed. Unfortunately, even after I put the book down, the haunting story stayed with me, and I dreamt about the witch trials for several days – and not in a pleasant manner.

I happily moved on to another book about a book club. Hopefully, I will just dream of finger-foods and good conversation while reading this one.

Finish reading half-read books – check.

I will confess: I am never going to unpack those last two boxes from my move to Winona last summer. I like those last two boxes. They are in the closet and not inconvenient, so I have decided to just leave them. If I don’t use anything in the boxes by spring, I plan on tossing both of them unopened. If I haven’t used anything in those boxes in nearly two years, how necessary are they?

Unpack last two boxes for move – incomplete.

I visited Bethany Church of God Sunday for Pastor Appreciation Day. My friend, Dr. Duran Palmertree (known by the congregation as Brother Buster) was being honored for his work at the church. While visiting with many of the parishioners and other guests, a lady who reads this column asked if I were close to my family.

“Oh, yes, very close,” I replied.

“I can tell,” she said. “Me, too.”

So if any of you were unsure, I am very close to my family. In particular, I am very close to my sisters.

I haven’t been to visit my family since August, and I was starting to feel a little homesick. I am sure this is a common emotion for the spoiled baby of the family who has moved away to live her own life.

Anyway, I got my family fix this weekend when my sisters and nephew visited Winona Sunday afternoon.

After lunch, we all sat on my porch swing and talked for several hours. My significant other even joined us (bless his heart, he is a good sport when dealing with the Sexton women).

Conversations between my sisters and me are similar to a Seinfeld episode – usually about nothing and always using funny voices. And we are loud. My significant other mentioned twice during lunch that he had a headache. Wonder why?

So with my sisters’ visit, I am revived – personally and professionally. Those two goofballs give me so much to write about.

Visit family – in progress.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The art of hunting (aka, Run, Bambi, run!)

Fall is here, and that means one thing – my significant other neglecting me to go out and shoot furry woodland creatures.

Yes, hunting season has begun. For a foo foo chick, I know quite a lot about food plots, deer stands, and bow calibrations. I have listened to it for the past two months.

Keith has plowed, fertilized, and sown seeds in the middle of a forest. He has repaired stands, renovated camp cabins, and browsed new camouflage on-line. He has prepared for battle against a four-legged prey that is, in his estimation, attempting to take over the world. In the forest, it is man against beast, and most Mississippi boys dream of open season on the enemy.

I have never understood hunting. Daddy has never been a hunter. He did take my sister and me frog gigging years ago, but all I can remember about it was that squishy sound frogs make. Needless to say, I did not dine on Kermit that night.

Daddy is more of a lawn and garden kind of guy. He would much rather work to make something live than run out and kill it.

Momma grew up in the Delta and has hunted her entire life. Being raised with three uncles, Momma learned everything a boy should know about the woods. She can hunt, fish, harvest cotton, and cut the head off a snake with a hoe. And she isn’t scared at all.

I was obviously blessed with Daddy’s genes when it comes to the great outdoors. We are bumbling idiots in anything other than our own backyards.

Mosquitoes follow me around like that dust trail on Pig Pen from the Peanuts gang. Despite my utter disgust for all things dirty, I can’t walk three steps with some sort of nature attaching itself to my clothes. I can come within a mile of poison ivy, and voila, I am covered in it. (I think it can smell fear like dogs.)

Daddy gets stung. Doesn’t matter what it is, he gets stung by it. And he is allergic. So anytime he has spent time outdoors, he comes in with his eyes swollen shut.

Every family vacation that involved nature has always been a disaster. Once, my family rented a Winabego and hit the road. I cannot recall the experience myself because I was under five, but from eyewitness accounts, I ripped my diaper off and mooned all the cars behind us. Then when we finally stopped for the night, I locked myself in that big tin can and destroyed the place. My parents had to call the highway patrol to get me out.

Sextons don’t camp; we don’t cook meat over an open fire, and we don’t use leaves as toilet paper. We are room service kind of people. Air conditioning kind of people. Hot shower kind of people.

But I digress.

I amazed at all the preparation hunters make. Despite the “seasons,” (By the way, Keith does not discriminate against game. He hunts every season all year long.) hunters prepare all year for those three months of camo bliss. And I am talking manual labor preparations.

Let me put this into another context. I want to read a book, but I have to make the book first. I spend an entire year writing the book and typesetting the words. Then, I go out into the forest and chop down a few trees to make the paper. After I haul the trees back to the lumber yard and cut them up….Do you see where I am going with this?

Months and months are spent preparing for a handful of weekends spent in complete silence waiting for some creature to wander into your path. I can’t even fathom the patient of these men. It drives me crazy to wait at the drive through window.

Anyway, Keith purchased some new camo gear to outfit him for the season. Friday night, he laid his new outfit out on the chair in the living room – removing tags and packing his camo duffle (ayhum, man purse). It was almost as if he were preparing for the first day of school.

He packed gadgets and knives and wild animal urine and talcum powder (I didn’t ask), all while blowing some sort of honker that mimics a doe’s mating call. I don’t know if that honker worked on deer, but my Chihuahua was quite interested.

Sunday, I visited him at his new hunting cabin in Ackerman. He was painting the walls khaki. More preparation.

What is it about hunting?

I decided I should probably find out. I have made the decision to go hunting, and no, this is not just to have an opportunity to shop for camo. I need to understand the kind of cult addiction it has on people – not that it will become an addiction for me unless deer start walking around the mall. I need to know what my competition is.

I let you know how it goes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Missing home

Saturday morning, I spoke with Momma on a marathon two hour telephone call. We discussed everything from her trip to Oregon to Christmas decorating plans, and I must admit it was comforting to talk with Momma over my Saturday morning coffee.

There have been only three times in my life when I did not live within a mile of my parents – college, a couple of months in London and when I moved to Winona a year ago.

Always the independent one in my family, I could not wait to get to college and begin a new chapter in my life. When I decided to study in England, I had no second thoughts. I packed up and flew nine hours to a foreign country – all alone and loved every minute of it. When Winona beckoned, once again, I took the leap and have not regretted one minute of my decision.

Despite my independence and my self-reliance, sometimes I get a little homesick. I want to have my parents dote on me, cook for me, nurture me, and best of all, sleep in my childhood bed and forget about being an adult for just a short time.

Now, remember, if I lived just a mile down the road from my parents like I did before moving to Winona, they would not be nearly as excited to see me. But since I live more than an hour away, it seems like my visits are one big welcome home party.

My sisters come to greet me, and we do not fight (I know, but it is possible). My parents usually plan a special meal – either steaks on the grill or dinner out. Everyone wants to hear about things in Winona, and I am expected to entertain them with stories of my new friends, home, and community. (As the youngest, I love the attention. If you would like, I could perform the number from my fourth grade dance recital – for applause, of course).

After some seriously good sleep in the most familiar bed, Momma wakes me early with fresh coffee. The two of us sit at the kitchen counter until Daddy graces us with his presence and a serious case of bed-head.

Ah, the crazy things you miss when you leave home!

Now that I am not in the everyday drama of my crazy family, I think I might have taken for granted some things that I find so special now.

For example, Daddy can annoy the heck out of someone with the Six Degrees of a Sexton game.

The game goes like this: “Do you remember Joe Johnson? Now, he went to school with your cousin, Cindy Lou. Cindy Lou is Uncle Homer’s daughter from over in Sarah. You remember her from the family reunion – sweet girl, but not attractive. You might be if she would do something with that hair. You know, Uncle Homer is your Granddaddy’s second cousin. Aunt Lorrine’s boy. Well, anyway, he went to school with Cindy Lou over at Lake Cormorant. He died last week. Can you believe that? He was only 87-years-old.”

When I was younger, I would want to stab myself in the eye during one of these conversations, but now, I call Daddy to hear about family happenings and local tidbits. Daddy should have been the reporter in the family. He can relay information like National Public Radio and never miss a detail. Through Daddy’s reports, I never miss a thing.

I also miss the insane conversations my parents have with each other – about absolutely nothing!

A conversation occurred on the way to Hot Springs, Ark. A logging truck pulled alongside our car on I-40. It went something like this.

Momma: “I wonder what kind of wood that is?”

Daddy: “I believe it’s pine.”

Momma: “Yeah. It’s pine.”

The miracle is that my parents found each other. The Lord knows no one else would have either of them.

Growing up with two older sisters was not something I would like to relive. In fact, it is shocking I lived the first go-around. However, I wouldn’t have changed anything – a scar, loss of hearing in my right ear, arthritis in my knee.

Despite the fighting, whining, and lack of sharing, having sisters was such a blessing for me. I can’t ever remember a time growing up that I actually felt lonely. My sisters were always there, and still when I get down or need to vent, I can call my sisters and act a fool and they never hold it against me. (Well, they can’t. I have too much dirt on them.)

Every child should experience the joy of having a sibling. My best friend, Heather, was an only child, and although her family had enough drama to get her through, she relied on my family for that “Father Knows Best” meets the “Emergency 911” experience. Of course, Heather could always go home to her own family to escape the drama of mine.

I sit here and write nostalgically about my family and their quirky ways held so dearly to me, but I often forget that distance makes the heart grow fonder. If I still lived within shouting distance of my family, I probably wouldn’t be so nostalgic about their crazy ways.

The last time I was home, Momma and I came to a realization. Moving away made me appreciate my family. It definitely made my relationships with my family members stronger, and I treasure my time with them so much more.

It is kind of like babysitting. You play with the baby, love on the baby, cuddle the baby, and sooth the baby. Then the baby cries and the babysitter can give the baby back and head on home.

Love the family. Miss the family. Relish the family. A fight breaks out or someone ends up in the emergency room, and I can always run for the hills – literally.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Learning to 'peel the onion'

Recently, I have been busy. Really busy, but good busy.

We are working on all sorts of cool stuff at the newspaper, and I am completely absorbed in it all. Newspaper people talk about having “ink in the blood,” and well, I am no exception.
However, what I noticed this week is that sometimes I can get too absorbed and forget that the world doesn’t stop because I am busy. Recently, I decided I should probably slow down and consider the “little details” that I have neglected in my enthusiasm.

First, I noticed this morning that the result of wearing my hair clipped up in a barrette every day is not in any way in the same ball park as what Sarah Palin has made so popular over the last few weeks. Actually, this morning, I resembled an onion.

In addition, lip balm is not really doing it for me. With my Irish heritage, I am in desperate need of some lipstick. Without it, my lips disappear like those of my eight grade English teacher. It wasn’t a good look for her, and I am assuming it isn’t for me as well.

On the home front, I am displaying two fern corpses on my front porch. They look like two tumbleweeds in hanging baskets. I am sure the neighbors appreciate my green thumb. Note to self: plants like water.

Over the past month, I tried to see how long I could go without doing laundry. I am convinced that laundry – not unlike the gremlin – multiplies in water and turns ugly after midnight. Right now this is just a hypothesis, but I am still investigating.

My kitchen counter just inside the back door is covered with unopened mail, newspapers, and magazines. I could have won the sweepstakes, but alas, I would have to open the envelope.

Sadly, I haven’t seen my family in nearly two months, and I didn’t even realize it had been that long. (Where did the summer go?) And my significant other, I’m afraid he is has begun some sort of relationship with my cell phone.

Every so often, I am forced to have an epiphany and take notice of what I have neglected. As a type-A overachiever, I will always be a workaholic. It is in my genes.

Growing up, I remember Daddy coming home at night and passing out on the sofa from pure exhaustion. Momma would wake him up to eat, and he would return to the sofa until she woke him again to go to bed.

However, Daddy could always get everything done – personally and professionally. He was a machine – still is for that matter. He tended the most amazing landscaping in the county, kept our home in repair, was involved heavily in church and the community, and still managed to recognize his children.

I can’t even keep my ferns alive or remember to buy milk.

So in the spirit of rejuvenation (and I know so many of you relate), I have made a few goals for the near future. I’ll update you on my progress.

1. Visit my parents and sisters. I have more fun with my loud and crazy family. I am certain other patrons at restaurants are jealous at how much fun we have together (I can sense the resentment). When no one ends up in the emergency room, our time spent together is so memorable. For those times we spend in the emergency room (oh, God bless the accident prone), we are more memorable to the hospital staff.

2. Go on a date with my significant other. Bless his heart – he certainly puts up with a lot. I’m a neurotic, high-maintenance, workaholic, foo foo chic. If any of you ever meet him, he deserves a hug.

3. Finish reading the five half-read books on my nightstand. Should I be concerned that I get bored with one and start another without finishing? I think I understand why I can’t find a hobby.

4. Finish unpacking the last two boxes from my move to Winona. Yes, that was more than a year ago. I like to draw out the process to delay the gratification of finishing.

5. Throw away my hair clips. This, my friends, is going to be the toughest part of the revitalization process. When I work, I immediately look for a way to get my hair out of my face with whatever tool is nearby – pencils, paper clips, letter openers. I am like a walking office supply store. Disposing my hair clips and other gadgets, accompanied by a trip to the salon for the works, should make me feel and hopefully look, human again. It is time to peel the onion.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The inappropriate relationship between the cat and dog

Once again, I will prove to you that I spend entirely too much time with my pets.

I am sure most of you believe I am that crazy animal person who sews little outfits for her dogs and parades them all over town in a baby carriage. You may think I am the one who organizes elaborate parties for my dogs and purchases party clothes for them to wear for the occasion (actually, I do know someone who does this). I have never planned a dog wedding, and I have never once believed my dogs actually speak to me (although, I do sometimes think I understand what they are thinking).

I realize I am a little partial to my animals, and I do think of them as my own very hairy children. For years, my dogs have been a sense of comfort, and as a single gal, they offer me not only protection but companionship. In addition, my dogs offer unconditional love, and that is something rare in the world today.

That being said, I just wanted to be clear about my sanity before I shared the following story.
Several months ago, I adopted a stray cat that wandered up to my office one Tuesday night. The cat was very persistent about receiving attention from me and my staff, and the next morning, when we arrived for work, she was waiting for us.

Fearing she would be hit by a car, I took her home and created a home for her in my storage room. It is very comfortable, and she would be quite cozy and protected from the environment. However, Deadline (the name my staff christened her with) would rather live inside the house with my dogs. Being slightly allergic, I have resisted her ceaseless attempts to move in.

I do, however, allow her to occasionally visit, and she immediately stretches out on the sofa and grooms herself in her pretentious, cat-like manner. She does not attempt to roam the house -- trying to sharpen her claws on my upholstery or leaving wads of cat hair on the carpet. She is quite the low-maintenance, occasionally-indoor feline.

Recently, however, I have noticed a change in Deadline. The endless grooming, the staring, the snuggles. I have come to believe Deadline is madly in love with my Chihuahua, Don Juan. Okay, before you scold me for my ridiculous notions and run-away imagination allow me to present my evidence (and please do not think I am a raging lunatic for studying this).

First, Don Juan is an exceptional Chihuahua, and I believe he agrees with this notion. He tends to prance about displaying his fine features, and he is usually very aware of females of any species. In other words, he loves the ladies.

Deadline will follow Don Juan around the back yard, and if he stops and sits, she will sit next to him. If he lays in the grass, basking in the sunshine, she will curl around him and groom him until he growls and lets her know he is no longer interested.

Second, when Deadline comes inside the house for a visit, she will curl around Don Juan as he sleeps – very litter-like. She will groom him for hours, and he will allow it – with his eyes closed as she licks his ears, chin, and head. I have even noticed that he will adjust himself for Deadline to get a better angle behind his ears (he likes to be rubbed behind his ears).

When he is tired of her attention, Don Juan will growl, and Deadline will move just inches away and stare at him while he sleeps.

The entire situation is very peculiar, and I am slightly disturbed by the unnatural and inappropriate relationship between the two animals. Don Juan adores attention and is more than likely welcoming of a nice massage by the cat. However, when he has enough, he lets her know, and she moves along.

Deadline is a different story. She is drawn to Don Juan. She will seek him out and situate herself next to him when the opportunity arises. When he shuns her, she will move away and stare at him longingly.

Why is Don Juan like cat nip to Deadline? Do other cats act like this, and being a perpetual dog person, I am unaware? Have I completely revealed myself as someone who should probably stop studying the social habits of my animals and get a hobby? You’re right, I should.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mississippians are neurotic according to study

This article was reprinted from the Wall Street Journal. I felt it was extremely interesting -- especially about Mississppians being so neurotic. My old college professor (Ownby taught me Old South and New South) seems to think it is our search for emotional depth. He attributes it to Faulkner and his self-medicating drinking and depression.

Is that true?

I personally believe that Mississippians are constantly in a battle between the past and the present. It is difficult to move forward when you are fighting ghosts from the past, but we are unable and unwilling to let them go.

Mississippi's past is its gift and its curse.


The United States of Mind (Greatest headline ever!)
By Stephanie Simon, Wall Street Journal. Email

Certain regional stereotypes have long since become cliches: The stressed-out New Yorker. The laid-back Californian.

But the conscientious Floridian? The neurotic Kentuckian?

You bet -- at least, according to new research on the geography of personality. Based on more than 600,000 questionnaires and published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, the study maps regional clusters of personality traits, then overlays state-by-state data on crime, health and economic development in search of correlations.

Even after controlling for variables such as race, income and education levels, a state's dominant personality turns out to be strongly linked to certain outcomes. Amiable states, like Minnesota, tend to be lower in crime. Dutiful states -- an eclectic bunch that includes New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah -- produce a disproportionate share of mathematicians. States that rank high in openness to new ideas are quite creative, as measured by per-capita patent production. But they're also high-crime and a bit aloof. Apparently, Californians don't much like socializing, the research suggests.

As for high-anxiety states, that group includes not just Type A New York and New Jersey, but also states stressed by poverty, such as West Virginia and Mississippi. As a group, these neurotic states tend to have higher rates of heart disease and lower life expectancy.

Lead researcher Peter Jason Rentfrow, lecturer at the University of Cambridge in England, said he was startled to find such correlations. "That just blew me away," he said.

Psychologists unaffiliated with the study say it's intriguing but limited. There's no way to unravel the chicken-and-egg question: Do states tend to nurture specific personalities because of their histories, cultures, even climates? Or do Americans, seeking kindred spirits, migrate to the states where they feel at home? Maybe both forces are at work -- but in what balance?

Another issue: The personality maps may reinforce stereotypes and tempt us to draw overly simplistic conclusions, said Toni Schmader, a psychologist at the University of Arizona. Knowing Arizona ranks low in neuroticism, Ms. Schmader said, she might conclude that sunny weather makes for sunny dispositions. But if the data had turned out the other way, the sun could just as easily be blamed for high neuroticism -- for driving Arizonans stir crazy by keeping them cooped up in air conditioning.

"We tend to reject information that doesn't agree with our stereotypes," Ms. Schmader said.
Cross-cultural psychology was all the rage in the 1930s and 1940s, driven by a craze among anthropologists for comparing child-rearing practices in modern and pre-industrial societies. But the discipline fell out of favor, partly because of concerns that the comparisons were driven more by value judgments than standardized assessments.

In the past decade, the field has been reinvigorated by the development of a 44-question personality test that evaluates five traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. Some psychologists disagree with this matrix; others would add traits such as honesty. But the assessment, called the Big Five Inventory, has been widely used in scientific research.

Mr. Rentfrow came to the field full of questions gleaned from a life spent hop-scotching across America. Why were his neighbors in Texas so relaxed, so courteous, so obsessed with sports?

Why did New Yorkers seem so tense and inward-focused, often brusque to the point of rudeness?

Eager to dig deeper, Mr. Rentfrow turned to a huge collection of psychological tests administered online from 1999 to 2005.

The assessments were linked to each respondent's current residence, so there was no way to tell if a New Yorker was a New Yorker born and bred, or had just moved from Kansas. But that suited Mr. Rentfrow's purposes. He wasn't trying to gauge how life in New York had shaped any one individual. His goal was a psychological snapshot of the state, and for that he needed to include even recent migrants -- who may, after all, have been drawn to New York because the big-city bustle suited their personality.

Mr. Rentfrow said his sample was proportionate to the U.S. population by state and race. Though it underrepresented the extremes of poor and rich, that shouldn't skew the results, he said.

While the findings broadly uphold regional stereotypes, there are more than a few surprises. The flinty pragmatists of New England? They're not as dutiful as they may seem, ranking at the bottom of the "conscientious" scale. High scores for openness to new ideas strongly correlates to liberal social values and Democratic voting habits. But three of the top ten "open" states -- Nevada, Colorado and Virginia -- traditionally vote Republican in presidential politics. (All three are prime battlegrounds this election.)

And what of the unexpected finding that North Dakota is the most outgoing state in the union? Yes, North Dakota, the same state memorialized years ago in the movie "Fargo" as a frozen wasteland of taciturn souls. Turns out you can be a laconic extrovert, at least in the world of psychology. The trait is defined in part by strong social networks and tight community bonds, which are characteristic of small towns across the Great Plains. (Though not, apparently, small towns in New England, which ranks quite low on the extraversion scale.)

The findings pleased Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who said it was nice to have scientific proof that his state is super-friendly. "That's the Nebraska I know," he said.

But Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman can't understand how Nevada got ranked so low in agreeableness. "We're probably the most agreeable folks in the world, because we have to treat visitors with a great deal of kindness ... to get a big tip," he said.

In Florida, meanwhile, tourism official Dia Kuykendall groped to explain her state's high "conscientious" ranking. She was having trouble reconciling that with, say, the party scene on Miami Beach. "Conscientious of how they look?" she wondered.

The research did give Ms. Kuykendall an idea for a new Florida tourism pitch: "Come visit us, we're not neurotic!"

Social scientists suggest other applications for the research as well. In the Northeast "stress belt," health officials might consider programs to help folks relax. In the Midwest, a dutiful state like Kansas might look to woo more innovative personalities, perhaps by nurturing an artists' enclave or encouraging young chefs to start restaurants, said Richard Florida, an economic development analyst who has written extensively on geography and psychology.

"Most cities are still trapped in the idea that they can recruit a call center or build a big stadium" to spur revitalization, Mr. Florida said. "This is a big wake-up call for policy makers."
It's also a wake-up call for proud residents of the great state of wherever -- some of whom aren't fond of the findings. Mr. Rentfrow said he's had to help some of them feel better. Yes, North Dakota and Wyoming rank quite low in openness to new ideas. But why label them narrow-minded and insular? Say, instead, he suggests, that they value tradition. New York may be neurotic, but he offers another way to put it: "It's a state in touch with its feelings."

Or take a cue from Ted Ownby, who studies Southern culture at the University of Mississippi. His state came up highly neurotic -- and he suspects his neighbors would be proud.

"Here in the home of William Faulkner," Mr. Ownby said, "we take intense, almost perverse neuroticism as a sign of emotional depth."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weekend in redneck paradise

Here are the pictures I promised from our trip to Hot Springs. Still have many more to share -- including Sweetie trying to tube, being thrown off and skipping over the water like a stone.

My nephew, Hunter, and his friend, Asa, enjoyed tubing on the lake. They were trying to be so cool.

The result of too much tubing. Hunter almost looks sweet in this picture, but don't let the little devil fool you!

Such a kiss up (with his mother and my sister, Stephanie)

Stephanie and I

Sweetie before the tubing incident.

Well, Sweetie did not sink the boat. That hand holding a beer in the corner is me -- relaxing with a good book.

More pictures to come when I get a chance....